First, I will ask this simple question. You down with MPP...Meaning Maine, Pelfrey and Perez? I would venture to say that after Johan Santana, this is the "heart" of the pitching staff, the guys who are going to mean the most. Similar to the argument in our economic base, the middle class in essence is the heart of the economy. The same rules apply here, although we are talking about baseball and being a competitively winning team, not just a "competitive" team. How the team will perform is contingent upon how the middle of the rotation will perform. For the highest payroll in the National League, failure is not an option.
Johan gives you a chance to win every five days. But in order to make the Mets successful, these three specific starters cannot merely "keep us in the game" for the offense to kick in (this would be the fifth starter's job, which I will attend to later in this column). I would venture to say these guys need to pitch over their heads in 2010, be more than they ever thought they could be. In other words, they also need to give us the best chance to win every day after, two days after and three days after Johan starts. Without them, this team will go nowhere, and I mean nowhere fast.
Let's start with Mike Pelfrey. As of today, it looks as though he will be the #2 starter after Johan. It became evident that Pelfrey had regressed in what we like to call the "Verducci Effect," or what I like to call the Sophomore Jinx. It is well known that Mike Pelfrey was indeed rushed to get to the Mets since they were in desperate need of starting pitching in 2007. However, he got off to an incredibly slow start in 2007, then in 2008, the "Big Pelf" we were all told about decided to show up, going a respectable 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA. Not bad for his full first year in the majors. Then...2009 happened. His ERA went up and he didn't even finish the season with a .500 record. We have to believe that the regression was in his head and that Big Pelf will once again reign supreme in the Field of the Citi. If not, well, our #2 pitcher will be nothing but a piece of #2.
Next is John Maine. He went from pitcher with great upside potential in 2006, to our "ace" in 2007, to injury prone in 2008, to regressing to the mean as sabers like to call it in 2009 only to succumb to the injury bug that every one else on the team got hit with. If John Maine performs in 2010 one of two things can happen. If he performs, that's just delicious icing since that will only benefit the Mets. On the flip side, if he performs, he'll become trade bait mid-season or in 2011, when his contract is up, he'll be a Type A Free Agent, and we'll get some fab prospects for him if we offer him arb (Hey, I can dream, right?). In either case, this is his "walk year." It will only benefit him to perform well. Of course, it will benefit the Mets as well. But this dude also needs to go more than 5 innings, and work on an out pitch, currently his Achille's heel. How many times have we seen a double-digit pitch at-bat against this guy? John Maine, in order to be successful, needs to get that out pitch and work on his stamina. He gives us 7 solid innings a start, we'll be in biz. Whether that happens...time will only tell.
Of course, the enigma of Oliver Perez is there. Being due $24 mm over the next two years suggests to me that he isn't going anywhere, so we must make do with what we have. Of course the joke of it is...which Ollie do we get today? Dr. Oliver Jekyll Perez? Or Mr. Ollie Hyde? We never know, and sadly, Ollie doesn't seem to know either. Here's the thing, I could easily say that on any other team, Oliver Perez would be a decent 5th starter. However, he is not a 5th on the Mets, and with the overbloated contract given to him, he has to perform or...bad things will happen. That said, if he can give 6 solid innings a game, and not implode and walk the park...well, not only has a miracle fallen upon CitiField, but we'll forget that he royally fucked us over in 2009 for showing up to camp fat and out of shape.
Lastly, the fifth starter. It is looking like Fernando Nieve, Nelson Figueroa and Jon Niese will be duking it out. I've said it before, and I'll say it again...all we are say-ing...is give NIESE a chance! Why Mets fans have this unusual fascination with a career journeyman pitcher in Figueroa is beyond me. As for Nieve...underwhelming is the word I can come up with at this juncture. I am all for giving young guys a chance, and while I may be vocal that bringing up Ike Davis or Jenrry Mejia is a recipe for disaster right now, Niese at least has some experience with the big team and has handled himself with a maturity beyond his years. Relegate Figgy to the long man job in the 'pen...and cut Nieve.
The pitching staff (after Johan Santana) is as much a mystery as Question Mark's backing band going into 2010. If we can get a more confident version of Big Pelf, John Maine gets an out pitch, Oliver Perez isn't Oliver Perez and we have a dude who can "keep us in the game" every 5th day, then we're halfway there. Halfway to what, I don't know, but I'll be sure to get back to you on that.