Midseason Analysis: Aaron Heilman


It wasn’t so long ago that Aaron Heilman was “too valuable” to be moved out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation — despite his desire to be a starter. Now, there’s question as to whether he has any value as a reliever, and no one’s considering that he be transitioned anywhere — except, perhaps, to New Orleans.

Though Heilman’s 2006 was up and down, for the most part he was highly effective in his middle relief / setup relief role, and was counted on to continue bridging the eighth inning toward Billy Wagner in the absence of Duaner Sanchez in 2007. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out well, as Heilman is gradually being pushed out of setup relief and into the middle innings.

His inconsistency has been frustrating, to say the least, especially to those who witnessed his remarkable work in 2005 and down the stretch in 2006. It’s possible he’s not 100% returned from minor elbow surgery executed immediately after the 2006 season, though it seems more likely that he’s simply not fit to be an everyday reliever. His best work has been performed with judicious rest between appearances, and his mechanics break down considerably (low elbow at release point, pushing the ball with fingers underneath) as he pitches more frequently. Nonetheless, Willie Randolph continues to trot him out there on a nearly daily basis — pulling a page from the Joe Torre book, How to Burn Out a Bullpen.

There was a time when Heilman was a genuinely reliable reliever — the kind of guy you could count on most of the time. This year, he’s become the Braden Looper of the middle innings — causing you to sit on the edge of your seat, fingers crossed, hoping to the baseball gods he’ll get through the inning unscathed. The homerun ball has been a major bugaboo, seemingly carried over from Yadier Molina’s bomb in the NLCS. In truth, the homeruns have nothing to do with a mental issue — the problem is his previously devastating changeup is usually high, flat, and fat.

Second-half Outlook

As long as Aaron’s arm angle continues to drop, he will not be an effective pitcher — reliever, starter, or otherwise (though maybe in softball). Since the low release point is most likely tied to fatigue, the only hope for him is to be used less frequently — which is only a possibility if the Mets can find another effective reliever somewhere. Trouble is, Randolph hasn’t yet put together the fact that the more he pitches, the worse he pitches — he’s on pace to pitch in more games than last year’s career high of 74 appearances. That said, expect similar inconsistency in the second half, and hope that someone has the sense to move him back into a starting role before spring training 2008.

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. JIMMYJ723 July 11, 2007 at 6:11 pm
    He’s made his feelings known that he wants to be a starter but I do give him credit for not complaining to the media about his role as a MR.

    With that being said, I’m not an Aaron Heilman fan. How does he expect to be a starter with only 2 pitches? Yes, he did throw that 1-hitter at the beginning of his career but that was before other teams had a chance to do any real scouting on him. I hope Omar deals him away soon before his trade value completely diminishes.

  2. joe July 11, 2007 at 10:14 pm
  3. JIMMYJ723 July 12, 2007 at 4:04 am
    You make a compelling argument but I still have to disagree. I wouldn’t even consider his change-up one of the top-10 in baseball, much less top-5. Would he make a better starter than Jason Vargas or Chan Ho Park? YES… but thats not saying much.

    In other news… Rick Down is OUT and Ricky Henderson is IN

  4. joe July 12, 2007 at 7:33 am
    That’s fair. You did see that the article was written in January — before Heilman lost his arm angle and as a result, his changeup.

    I’m curious .. who throws the top ten changeups in baseball?

    (as of the end of 2006)

    Personally I have Johan Santana #1

  5. JIMMYJ723 July 12, 2007 at 11:35 am
    1. Johan Santana
    2. Cole Hamels
    3. Trevor Hoffman
    4. Chris Capuano
    5. Eric Gagne
    6. James Shields
    7. Javier Vazquez
    8. Matt Cain
    9. Tim Hudson
    10. Tom Glavin (although recently it’s been hard to tell the difference between his 85-MPH Fastball and 75-MPH Change)
  6. joe July 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm
    Nice list, thanks.

    btw was Shields in MLB last year?

  7. JIMMYJ723 July 12, 2007 at 1:55 pm
    No… he’s a rookie. Wish we had traded for him instead of that other guy who just got booted from Toronto.
  8. joe July 12, 2007 at 2:06 pm
    yeah, well, we probably would have had to “throw in” Reyes or Wright to pull that off.