Mets Still Need Pitching

While the Mets and their fans sit around waiting for Jason Bay and Bengie Molina to make up their minds, there is still the little matter of the pitching staff.

For those unaware, injuries were not the reason the Mets had their worst season since 2003. Neither was it the lack of power. Sure, those obvious issues had something to do with it, but the #1 reason the Mets never had a snowball’s chance in Hades of making the postseason was because their pitching was flat-out awful.

But don’t take it from me — check the stats. The Mets were 12th in the NL in ERA, 12th in WHIP, and 14th in strikeouts. And as MetsToday reader “CatchDog” pointed out yesterday, the Mets finished second-to-last in innings by their starting pitchers. Oh, but they did lead the league in balks, and came in a close second to the Nationals in walks.

Walks and balks — that was the story of the Mets pitching in 2009.

Before you say “the Mets pitching stunk because of the injuries”, try to remember how overjoyed you were upon hearing the news that Oliver Perez would be out indefinitely with a knee injury. Perez was supposed to be the #3 starter, and was one of the team’s top free-agent signings last winter. And yes, John Maine was injured as well — in 2008! Only the Mets would be foolish enough to count on a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery to be a lynchpin in their starting rotation.

Even if Maine and Perez do come back and somehow return to their 2007 form, there is still the matter of the #5 spot in the rotation. Many are quick to point out that Jonathan Niese and Fernando Nieve will battle it out, but both of those youngsters are coming off serious leg injuries. People like to focus on the health of pitchers’ arms, but the fact is, the legs are just as — if not more — important, and any weakness or pain in the lower half can lead to injuries to the upper half (ask Dizzy Dean or Mark Fidrych).

Oh, and did we mention that staff ace Johan Santana is coming off elbow surgery? Yes, he’s been through it before and came back with a Cy Young Award, but that was six years ago, when Santana was only 24 going on 25. He’s now past the age of 30, and if you are “thirtysomething” then you know that the body changes as you age.

After the starting rotation, of course, comes the bullpen. The big news last offseason was that the Mets significantly improved their bullpen — on paper. In reality, the ‘pen was just as ineffective as 2008, possibly worse. Heading into 2010, there is an unknown Japanese import penciled in as the setup man, a closer coming off his worst season ever, and a collection of mediocre middle relievers handled by a man who is clueless in regard to bullpen management.

Stop me when if you think I’m off course.

Still with me? Then you agree that the Mets have some work to do. For starters, um, they can acquire a starter. Or two. At this point I don’t know that it matters whether it’s a “number 2” so much as it’s someone competent and durable yet not mediocre. Second, there is the matter of the setup role. Ryota Igarashi may turn out to be “the guy” but you can’t go into spring training thinking that way — a legit competitor needs to be brought in. Another middle reliever would be helpful, as would a LOOGY (unfortunately the Mets blew a golden opportunity to bring in either during the Rule 5 Draft).

To recap the current situation: the Mets are counting on Santana, Perez, Maine, Nieve, and Niese — 5 starters — to fully recover from injuries and surgeries. And they’re counting on someone who has never pitched in MLB before (Igarashi) to be the setup man. And they’re counting on a comeback from their closer, whose velocity and performance went down, and who is pitching winter ball right now despite a long, forgettable year that began with the WBC in early March. And we haven’t even delved into Mike Pelfrey’s yips nor the hittability of Bobby Parnell.

We can bounce around all the names we want in the comments, but first we need to agree (or disagree) that the Mets’ #1 issue right now is not finding a slugging left fielder or ridding themselves of Luis Castillo — it’s fixing and fortifying the pitching staff. And no catcher — not Bengie Molina, Johnny Bench, nor the ghost of Mickey Cochrane — can singlehandedly turn the Mets’ current assembly into a healthy, formidable, playoff-bound staff.

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 December 24, 2009 at 3:12 pm
    Nothing you state here is inaccurate, Joe. However, I do not envy the Mets’ position.

    So far, the #1 pitcher who has switched teams the offseason is Roy Halladay. But the price it would have taken to acquire him would have been steep, which is especially precarious for the Mets considering their dearth of talent in the minor leagues. Further depleting the system puts them at a serious disadvantage if a repeat of 2009 occurs. Also, Halladay wanted and recieved a hefty contract extension, though not as long or expensive as was rumored, but still makes his acquisition that much riskier, especially for a guy his age with as many miles on his arm. So Halladay was no slam dunk.
    The #2 pitcher who has changed teams is Cliff Lee, but he was a part of the Halladay deal, and there was no chance the Mets could have gotten their hands on him.
    #3 was John Lackey, who is getting about $17M per season from Boston. I think we all agree Lackey isn’t worth that much and were pleased the Mets decided to pass.
    #4 was Javier Vazquez, whom I’m not sure the Braves were willing to sell to the Mets.
    Then you have second- and third-tier pitchers like Randy Wolf getting almost $10M per year from Milwaukee, the oft-injured Rich Harden getting $7.5M from Texas, the consistent but mediocre Jason Marquis getting $7.5M per year from the Nats, and Brandon Morrow heading to Toronto for a strong relief pitcher and a solid prospect. All of those pitchers were either out of the Mets’ ability to land or not worth their price. So though it looks like the Mets are getting lazy when it comes to upgrading the starting pitching, in reality the pitchers that have been on the move so far this winter either weren’t worth giving up the money or the talent to acquire. You can certainly make the case that a Halladay or Vazquez or Wolf would have been worth overpaying for, but it’s not a mockery to think otherwise.

    What’s left on the market now isn’t anything worth getting overly excited about, either…but I do concur that the Mets need to get SOMEBODY. Preferably, 2 or 3 somebodies. But what the Mets will continue to do is wait out the likes of Jon Garland, Joel Piniero, Vicente Padilla, Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Doug Davis, Pedro Martinez, etc and find the few that aren’t looking for an extravagant contract. There’s no need to cave into their demands now if they really feel like they can talk them down to more reasonable contracts. And there’s also no need to feel the pressure of signing someone from that group immeditately because mediocrity is all that’s left and there’s no need to get antsy about signing a .500 pitcher with a 4.50+ ERA. That’s how I see it, anyway.

  2. Harry Chiti December 24, 2009 at 4:15 pm
    Thats the story of the new Met front office philosophy and fans who buy in. A player would have required the Mets to give up too much or t he player cost too much on the FA market or the player isn’t good enough. The result is that with an attitude like that you become the Pittsburgh Pirates or the KC Royals, not even the Oaklsn A’s. Ah, the return of the horrible years are getting close. In 2 years Beltran will leave and Wright and Reyes and Santana will demand trades to contenders. The late 70’s-early 80’s… The mid 90’s the early 00’s and now the down years of the 10’s. Thanks for supporting the small market mind set that has retuned to Queens. And enjoy the 28 starts of Nelson Figueroa.
  3. isuzudude December 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm
    Harry, unlike yourself I did not recieve my Christmas crystal ball in the mail yet. You know, the one that is telling you that Wright and Reyes and Johan are demanding trades in 2 years. I wish I had your intuition because then I’d be inclined to throw millions of dollars at inadequate or mediocre talent just to say I did something like it seems you’re lobbying for.

    The Mets will never become like the Pirates or Royals because, unlike those 2 teams, when the Mets see a player worth paying a ton of money for, they have the ability to do it. As we’ve seen with Beltran, Santana, KRod, etc. But you think that when the Mets decide against overpaying for questionable talent, instead of showing the ability to be thrifty and price conscious, they instead revert into a small market team unable or unwilling to make a deal for any high-priced talent. And that’s simply not true. I suppose you’d be all for spending $300M this offseason by signing Holliday, Molina, and Lackey, and then still watch the team finish 3rd in the division because the bullpen still reeks, defense sucks, and there’s not enough organizational depth. And at that point you’d criticize the franchise for spending too much money on lower quality talent, which would contradict what you had been calling for all along.

    Looks like I got that crtystal ball in the mail after all!

  4. astromets December 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm
    Pedro Feliciano is pretty solid year in and year out, so at least we got him.

    I don’t know that we haven’t made offers to the FA starters left, but I think we should at least put 1-year offers out there so we don’t miss out on everyone completely and show those guys we have interest, if just at one year.

  5. gary s. December 25, 2009 at 12:20 am
    omar says he has a appears the plan is to finish last..merry christmas everybody !!!
  6. IveMetFan December 26, 2009 at 5:54 pm
    I have been saying this since the season ended. We need pitching DEPTH! I have also been saying that the Mets are doing a great job this offseason. Not signing Bay, Holliday or Lackey helps the Mets in the long run. Lackey is not worth 17 mil. Bay and Holliday don’t fit Citifield and the modo of PITCHING DEFENSE AND SPEED, Bay and Holliday can do none of those. The Mets are doing the right thing by strengthing our strengths and not the weakness. The bullpen is our strength and we made a couple of good signings to strenghten that even more. The only thing we need to strength that is weak should be pitching not power hitting.

    It may sound bad but giving the 2006-2009 team one more shot at it is the way to go. We should still wait out Delgado and jus sign some role players for the outfield and infield. We need Depth!!! We are to top heavy.

    Here is my plan (again)

    Trade for Arroyo,Phillips,Taveras. This can be reasonably done this is not a pipe dream.
    Murphy, Parnell, Castillo and a prospect should get this done. Its a salary dump for the Reds.

    Sign Mark Derosa. He is very versatile he will get alot of playing time because of it. And he wont require a huge long term contract. He will also bring a good bat with some pop and provide depth.

    Resign Delgado. We need pop at first and Delgado is a lefty in the middle of the line up. Who would you rather face with the bases loaded? Murphy or Delgado (even at this state)?

    Sign some guys to the bullpen.

    Sign a Wang Sheets high risk high reward guy to fill out the 3rd spot in the rotation.

    Get pitching depth and we wont have a need for Bay and Molina or Holliday. We will have enough power and hitting and speed from our lineup to win us games. Power and scoring mean nothing if the other team score more.