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2006 Team Previews: New York Mets, Pitchers

This preview was written by fellow SB Nation blogger Eric Simon, of Amazin' Avenue. Eric knows his stuff, and I enjoy his blog a great deal. Be sure to check it out after this if you haven't already!

1. Many of the Mets' high expectations for the coming season rest on the well-worn right arm of Pedro Jaime Martinez. He signed the big free agent contract with New York in the 2004 offseason and he didn't disappoint in his first go-round with the club. He ranked in the Top 5 among National League hurlers in ERA, strikeouts, K/BB (#1), K/9, WHIP (#1), BAA, OBPA (#1), and SLGA. He pitched 217.0 innings in 2005, so he was dominant and durable, the latter of which was a cause for concern heading into the season.

PECOTA sees another strong season for Martinez, predicting a 2.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 206 strikeouts to 53 walks in 212.2 innings. This spring, Martinez has been bothered by an injury to his right big toe, an affliction that will prevent him from starting on Opening Day for the Mets. It is not expected that the injury will affect Martinez' pitching too greatly, though it set him back a couple of weeks in Spring Training and he has just two exhibition starts to date. Still, he is scheduled to pitch in the third game of the opening series against the Washington Nationals.

2. Thomas Michael Glavine, normally the Mets' #2 guy, will get the Opening Day nod, his seventh, in place Pedro Martinez. Glavine struggled mightily in the first half of 2005, much as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest might struggle. Inevitably, the whispers began: "He doesn't have it anymore", and "He's 39, I guess he's finally out of gas", and "Well, I haven't been much of a fan since that time he punched my grandma in the face and whatnot". Apparently, Glavine didn't let the early-season struggles nor the pending lawsuit get him down, as he bounced back remarkably in the second half:

Pre All-Star 102 4.94 56 137 41 46
Post All-Star 109.1 2.22 29 90 20 59
Glavine improved his control enormously, cutting his walk rate in half and his hit rate by almost 40% (1.34 H/IP to .82 H/IP), improving his WHIP from 1.75 to 1.00, which is a fairly ridiculous turnaround. Even if 2006 Glavine can perform somewhere in between the two halves of 2005 Glavine he will provide a very solid rotation counterpart to Pedro Martinez.

3. Stephen Christopher Trachsel is the de facto #3 starter in this rotation. While really more of a #4 or #5 type guy, Trachsel has consistently posted ERA marks in the high three's and low four's despite underwhelming peripherals. After his first season with the Mets in 2001 in which he recorded an ERA 5% worse than his dERA, Trachsel's ERA has bested his dERA by at least 20%, a DIPS enigma to be sure. He threw just 37 innings in 2005, missing most of the season with a back injury. Back injuries can often be problematic, even post-recovery, but Trachsel pitched more innings than any other Met in Spring Training and, despite somewhat shabby results, his back appears to be ship-shape.

4. Victor Manuel Zambrano is a frustrating pitcher. His pitches have incredible natural movement on them that consistently elicit cartoonish swings from opposing batters. He also has an incredible lack of control that elicits more bases-on-balls than desirable. 2005 was a bizarre season for Zambrano, as he saw significant change in all of his peripherals:

      '01-'04       2005    Change
K/9     7.01     6.06     + 14%
BB/9    5.34     4.17     - 22%
H/9     8.03     9.20     + 15%
ERA     4.45     4.17     -  6%
Zambrano made a concerted effort to improve his control last season and it showed, both for better and for worse. His BB/9 was a career-best (as a starter), though 4.17 walks per nine innings still isn't particularly impressive. More troubling is that, while Zambrano was issuing fewer walks, he was also striking out fewer batters and allowing more hits, both logical consequences of throwing more pitches in the strike zone. The aggregate affect of all of these changes was a 6% improvement in his ERA which, at 4.17, was slightly better than the National League average of 4.23. If Zambrano can throw 180-200 innings of league-average ball I think the Mets will be satisfied, even if Mets fans still bemoan the loss of this guy.

5. Much to the chagrin of would-be starter Aaron Heilman, Brian Bannister rounds out the Mets' rotation, the back end of which is much more suspect than its anterior counterpart. Bannister posted very solid numbers in the Minors as a starter, with lifetime MnL rates of 8.06 K/9, 3.11 K/BB and 0.48 HR/9. He just turned 24 in February and has become a star pupil of pitching coach Rick Peterson who gushes about Bannister's preparation and attention to the analytical aspects of pitching. Bannister made the team on the somewhat questionable merit of an extremely impressive Spring Training, and his mettle will be tested early as he starts the second game of the season in place of Zambrano, who suffered a hamstring injury in the second-to-last game of the Spring.

Despite some question marks, the Mets' rotation is at least on par with that of the Atlanta Braves and probably a little better than the Phillies' rotation, so they don't appear to be at a disadvantage with regard to the rest of the NL East.

The Mets' bullpen has received a lot of attention this offseason, and for good reason. Last year's closer, Braden Looper, was dreadful, so the Mets replaced him with the best pitcher available in Billy Wagner. The Mets surely overpaid Wagner, coughing up $45 million over the next four seasons for a 34-year-old closer, but Wagner has showed no signs of slowing down and posted one of his best seasons in 2005. He's still one of the two or three best closers in the National League and will represent a huge upgrade over Looper. The Mets traded two of their starting pitchers -- Kris Benson and Jae Seo -- for two setup men: the Orioles' Jorge Julio and the Dodgers' Duaner Sanchez. Julio reminds a lot of people of Armando Benitez, both in his appearance and his wildness. Benitez was probably the best reliever in Mets' history (at least in the regular season), so Julio has some ways to go before he can seriously be compared to Mando. Still, Julio just turned 27 years old so there's still an optimist's chance that he'll become an effective pitcher again. Sanchez had a pretty good year in 2005 with the Dodgers as a late-inning arm and sometimes-closer, though he'll be no better than the #3 or #4 guy in the Mets' pen. Aaron Heilman desperately wanted to be a starter this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a shot sometime this season if (read: when) one of the other starters needs to be replaced due to injury/ineffectiveness. Heilman was arguably the best relief pitcher in the NL after the All-Star break last year, notching an absurd 0.68 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 40 innings. Chad Bradford offers batters a different look, though he's really only effective against righties. Career marks: .225 BAA and 0.98 WHIP vs righties, .319 BAA and 1.95 WHIP vs lefties. The bullpen will be rounded out by LOOGY Pedro Feliciano. The Mets will break camp with just eleven pitchers and just six relievers, but there's a good chance they will recall someone like Heath Bell towards the end of April when the early-season off days are in the rearview.

Barring injury, they arguably have a Top 5 NL pitching staff. The Mets figure to have a very potent offense this year, so if they can get any kind of above-average pitching they should be serious post-season contenders.