Thursday, September 15, 2005

Now the Alternative
By Ben Valentine

The infatuation Sportszilla has with young pitchers continues. Yesterday I posted the Mets would be a better team if Tom Glavine were out of the rotation in favor of a younger pitcher. Naturally, you shouldn’t just take what I say as gold (even if it often is), so I’ve come to back up my claim with some numbers. In fact, I’m willing to say the Mets should be considering redoing their entire rotation for next year, and it starts with Aaron Heilman. His numbers in 46 games, seven of those starts:

4-3, 3.55 ERA, 96.1 IP, 84 H, 28 BB, 94 Ks, 6 Hrs, .241 Opp Ba, 1.16 WHIP, 8.78 K/9, 3.36 K/BB, 1.60 G/F, .56 Hrs/9

The fact he’s not had a more prominent role with this team is a travesty. Willie Randolph has designated him the 7th inning guy, but on team that’s strength has been its starting pitching, that has left him without a prominent role. The Mets refused to use him in the rotation early on instead of Kaz Ishii as Willie didn’t seem to be high on him. Relegating him unfairly the pen, the Mets continued to be obstinate in their use of Heilman. They were willing to trot Braden Looper out there to blow save after save rather than using Heilman as the team’s closer.

But wait! Braden Looper is a proven commodity. How do we know Heilman wouldn’t have imploded under the pressure? Well we don’t. But could he have been any worse?

Looper: 4-7, 28 Svs, 6 Blown Svs, 3.57 ERA, 58 IP, 62 H, 21 BB, 27 Ks, 7 hrs, .266 Opp BA, 1.43 WHIP, 4.19 K/9, 1.29 K/BB, 1.71 G/F, 1.09 Hrs/9

As you can see, Looper, despite having roughly the same ERA as Heilman, has been much, much worse. A closer often needs to come into a tight game and get outs via the strike out to strand runners in scoring position. Instead, Looper is the opposite. He puts runners on like it’s going out of style, and he doesn’t strike anyone out. Bringing him into a tight spot is literally like pouring gasoline on a fire. The only thing that has allowed Looper not to have an ERA near 5.00 is the fact he’s gotten a fair number of ground balls. But everything else in his stats is awful. There is really no way Heilman could have been worse as a closer.

But now that I’ve once again pointed out the Mets ineptitude with young pitchers this season, let’s move on to next year, as this one was over two weeks ago.

Last night I said Jae Seo had the potential to be the Mets second best pitcher next year if he was put in the rotation. Well I take it back. If Heilman is in the rotation, he should the Mets second best pitcher. Unlike Seo, he actually has ace potential. He’s someone who’s always struck people out. At AA in 2002, he K’d 97 in 96.2 innings, while walking 28. At AAA those numbers decreased somewhat, though that year he K’d 35 in 49.1 innings (walking 16), while the next year it was 71 in 94.1 innings (walking 32). Last year at AAA his K numbers rose again, 123 in 151.2 IP. So his K/9 for those years; 9.03, 6.39, 6.77 and 7.30.

This year Heilman supposedly has finally started using his change up effectively, and it has helped his strikeouts even further. But the key for the 26 year old righty is that he’s not walking batters like he used to. In his first two stints with the Mets he walked 41 in just 65.1 innings and then 13 in 28 IP. His K/9 was solid at 7.03 and 7.07, but his K/BB was terrible at 1.24 and 1.69. As stated earlier, this year is a great 3.36. I’m not saying Heilman will become a #1 starter, I’m just saying the potential is there. Any time a strike out pitcher figures out how to decrease walk totals drastically while continuing to miss bats, he’s going to have a huge upside. (Insert my 1,000th John Patterson reference here) And if the Mets trade him for any reason this off season, they would be doing themselves a huge disservice. It wouldn’t be Kazmir/Zambrano, but it would be a poor decision.

To be fair, relieving is a different ball game than starting. But considering the success Heilman had in the minors without a good out pitch, I don’t see any reason why his success can’t be translated to the rotation. And if he does in fact fail as a starter, the Mets could easily shift him back to the bullpen and make him a reliever.

It may not happen, but the Mets would be wise to have Heilman and Seo join Pedro Martinez in the starting rotation next year. The fifth spot should go to Brian Bannister (currently pitching for Team USA) and the fourth spot to either Steve Trachsel or Victor Zambrano. What about Kris Benson you ask? Well more on him and Bannister next time as I continue what is quickly turning into a series on the Mets post-mortem/ outlook for the future.


Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

I swear Ben, between the two of us we're apportioned about 1000% more attention on crappy non-playoff teams then we should have.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Very sad, but very true. But hey, the way I look at it, the football season is still too young for me to be making any sweeping generalizations, outside of the fact the Broncos' defense stinks. So what better time time to wrap up the Mets or the Mariners?

I'm trying to take an optomistic look at my team before I do my habitual tearing into the Yankees. Or praising of the A's, should they make the playoffs.

3:37 PM  

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