John Maine – Ready or Not?

john-maine-baseballAfter throwing four innings in a minor league game in Florida, John Maine has proclaimed his arm healthy. The Star-Ledger reports that Maine could soon join the rotation.

In fact, we might see him make a start this coming Sunday, against the Philadelphia Phillies. If so, it would be his first appearance in a big-league game since June 6th. But will his performance in the final weeks of this season truly give us any inkling to his health in 2010?

According to Maine:

“It’s a little tight but it’s just getting back to normal,” Maine said when asked how he felt. “But as of now, no pain. I didn’t have any pain (Saturday) night so this feels pretty good.”

Further, Maine explained it was rest that led to his current status — as per the advice of Dr. James Andrews. From the Star-Ledger:

Maine said it was after he met with noted orthopedist James Andrews July 29 that he turned the corner in his comeback. Up until that point, Maine said he had been throwing regularly and the shoulder was not getting better. He still felt the pain in between throwing, and began to think he would not be able to come back this year.

Andrews suggested he stop throwing for a while, and he did, shutting it down for two weeks. That made the difference, he said.

“(That was) something I probably should’ve done earlier but didn’t,” Maine said. “Soon as I was feeling better I started throwing off the mound and long tossing, I knew I was going to pitch (this season).”

Um … so, in other words … what the Mets prescribed for his rehab was NOT working. Ouch.

Though, this latest development should not be misconstrued as Maine being “cured”. According to Maine, he’s not 100%, and doesn’t expect to be — this year, anyway:

“But it is good enough to go out there and throw,” he said. “I’m not hurting, and that’s the main goal.”

A couple of months of not throwing in the offseason will take care of the problem completely, he said.

“I will be fine by spring training, worst case,” he said.

That last sentence is the most telling — particularly for people like me, who are mistrusting and pessimistic by nature.

Isn’t it possible that Maine’s sudden recovery and return to the team has more to do with getting a job for next year than anything else? As of now, Maine is without a contract once the 2009 season ends. The Mets have the option to offer him arbitration or non-tender him. Considering that his current salary is $2.6M, and almost no one ever leaves an arbitration table without a raise, there is significant risk in going that far with an injured pitcher.

If John Maine didn’t return this year, the Mets almost certainly would have non-tendered Maine, and/or offered him a significant reduction in salary (or an incentive-based deal). After all, there was little guarantee of his health.

However, if Maine takes the mound for the Mets in September, and can come close to his usual velocity of 92-94 MPH, the Mets would be hard-pressed to let him walk away — especially since manager Jerry Manuel said this:

“We believe that if healthy, he could be an effective starter,” Manuel said. “He could be a good piece of the rotation for a championship team. We believe that.”

Maine, of course, claims the contract issue has nothing to do with his return. That’s the right thing to say, and what we expect to hear. But if he truly believes that, he’s either sitting on a hefty trust fund or he needs a new agent who can explain to him concepts like business and economics. Bills do have to be paid, after all.

So for all we know, Maine’s shoulder problem may or may not be exactly the same as it was in early June, when he said his shoulder “hurts a little bit“, but was able to throw through it nonetheless. If he could throw through the pain back then, why wouldn’t he be able to do it now — especially since he’d only have to grin and bear it for at most 3-4 starts?

Another mysterious quote gleaned from that Star-Ledger article (great job of reporting by Colin Stephenson, by the way):

Maine seemed annoyed at the Mets’ description of his injury as a “weakness” in his shoulder.

“I’ve got an idea (what the injury is),” he said. “But it’s just, you know…its weakness, so we’ll say it’s weakness.”

Hmm … the Mets call it “weakness” and Maine terms it something else. Obviously, someone is hiding something. But, both parties agree that another surgery is definitely not in the plans. I’m not sure what to make of this misinformation. But it does add another element of worry for Maine’s health in 2010.

Bottom line is this: John Maine can come out and throw bullets in the final weeks of the season, but it may not prove anything about his health, nor will it provide a guarantee for a healthy 2010. But it will have a significant impact on the amount of money he makes next year.


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. edfever September 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm
    Great piece..

    What about Maine as a set-up man get him back to being a power pitching heavy rising fastball pitcher that racked up the strike outs in the minors and when he first came up.

    I still think Maine secondary pitches aren’t good enough to keep his pitch count down resulting in five innings and out.

    I’m not confident in turning the 8th over to Stokes yet and JJ isnt coming back at 8.5MM

  2. joejanish September 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm
    I don’t think Maine’s arm can handle the rigors of a setup man. Also, I’m not sure he has a sufficient “put away pitch” to get himself out of tough situations. Would it be the high fastball? Or his slider? Not sure.

    In any case, unless Maine changes his mechanics, he’s going to have arm troubles for the rest of his career.

  3. edfever September 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm
    Maine in 2005 (last full season in AAA) recorded 111 SO – 42 BB in 120 innings- using the predominantly FB/Slider

    I’m guessing you feel Set-up is tougher then starting on the arm..

  4. Mike September 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm
    Joe, and there in lies the problem. “Unless he changes his mechanics…” couldn’t we say that for all of the Mets pitchers the past 3 years? They all seem to get hurt, and if it is mechanics, as you say, then something needs to be done. Dan Warthen has to have some impact on this. Shouldn’t he be fixing this sort of thing?

    I feel as though the Mets have needed a change at pitching coach since Peterson falsely claimed he could fix Victor Zambrano. Warthen is not doing his job if pitchers continue to have flawed mechanics.

    What do you think?

  5. joejanish September 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm
    Mike, you bring up an intriguing point. As a pitching coach I know that changing mechanics can be difficult as players get older, because the longer habits are ingrained, the harder they are to fix. Many coaches at the pro level believe it’s impossible to make significant mechanical changes and few really understand biomechanics sufficiently to implement the changes.

    Most coaches are just like Warthen — former pro pitchers whose knowledge comes mostly from their own experience, and what they learned from their coaches. There are only a handful of guys like Rick Peterson who went outside of “organized ball” to find answers on how a baseball should be propelled by the human body. But even the “new” open-minded coaches like Peterson don’t have all the answers (nor necessarily the right answers).

    Nearly every MLB pitcher has some kind of mechanical flaw, but teams prefer to ignore them and “work with them”, rather than take the time to correct them. Backward way of thinking, but then so is most of the thinking done by MLB braintrust. That’s what happens when you shut the door to outside knowledge (in what other sport is it absolutely impossible to become a coach without pro playing experience?).

    In the case of Maine, his mechanics absolutely caused his impinging bone spur. If he were anyone else (a high school pitcher, a javelin thrower, a basketball player, an office clerk), Maine would have gone through a rehab program that included a correction in his technique. But changing technique can take as long as 6-8 months (or as short as 2-4), and most players (and teams) won’t wait that long. There’s also the fear that the new technique will result in less velocity or a decrease in effectiveness (though, such fears rarely are usually irrational — it’s more likely the player will return with more velocity and/or improved effectiveness).

    There are enough cement-heads in baseball to support the theories that “a guy throws the way he throws” and “if you change him, he’ll never be as good as he was before”. So, most likely Maine (and Ollie Perez, and others) will continue with his current form and, even when healthy, be an inconsistent pitcher.

    The good news is that Maine once made 32 starts and won 15 games at the MLB level. That’s enough evidence for the Mets to believe he doesn’t need to be changed.

  6. isuzudude September 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm
    Let’s just come to terms with the following:
    Regardless of how Maine performs when/if he returns this month, if the Mets are to re-sign him this offseason – be it a longterm contract, an arbitration settlement, or a free agenct deal – Maine will inevitably be hurt for the duration of his Mets’ tenure and will constantly take 1 step forward and 2 steps back on his path to never ending recovery. Yet, if the Mets trade him, or let him loose this winter, he will re-surface elsewhere (most likely with an inter-divisional team with whom Maine can do the most damage versus the Mets) and be given a clean bill of health and go on to become a 20-game winner for the next handful of seasons.

    You can’t alter fate, you can only accept it.

  7. Walnutz15 September 8, 2009 at 5:05 pm
    They’re saying Maine on Sunday — Stoner on Monday.
  8. Taylor September 8, 2009 at 5:19 pm
    I don’t get it. I just hope Maine is good when he comes back. I hope he can still throw 92-93 consistently because when he falls below that he gets hit pretty hard.
  9. gary s. September 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm
    what difference is it if he hits 92-94 mph on sunday??at best he is a 6 inning high pitch count’s time to say goodbye..or give him a 3 year 36 mill deal like perez got..with this gm he just might get it ..