Some random musings late at night...
Particularly of late, with a few stronger contenders for the back-end of the rotation making themselves known (Nelson Figueroa, Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, and Hisanori Takahashi) and a limited amount of spots in the rotation open (1), I've been hearing a lot of people calling for starters who are already "entrenched" in the rotation to be removed, so that another spot opens up for another of the above mentioned players to be inserted in. The two names that are most tossed around are Oliver Perez and John Maine.
While removing the ever-erratic Perez from the rotation would be nice, it's fairly unanimous that the prospects of that are slim; after all, he's being paid $12 million dollars for whatever 2010 campaign he logs in to the record books. Given that he has a problem walking people, being prone to randomly lose his control at any given time, he isn't exactly prime bullpen material anyway, his salary aside.
The leaves John Maine. To get the salary part out of the way, in 2010, he's due to make $3.3 million dollars. Looking at his stats, he becomes fairly attractive for a reliever job- his "problem" thus far hasn't been getting players out, but rather, staying in the game, whether it be because of high pitch counts taking him out of games early, or injuries keeping him off the field completely. Generally speaking, he has a high strikeout rate (when he's healthy, which he currently is), making moving him into the bullpen even more attractive.
John Maine's biggest problem in the bullpen might be himself, however. On March 14th, Maine came into a Spring Training game against the Marlins in a preplanned relief appearance and got rocked for five runs in just two-thirds of an inning, walking two. According to Maine, his shoulder felt fine, and he was not "experimenting" with alterations to his delivery, or with new pitches for the upcoming season. Rather, he explained, "I just wasn't kind of that into it. It wasn't good. It's just I wasn't all that prepared. The feeling that it's not my game is the hardest thing. It's a waste of a day. I am a creature of habit. I have a certain routine. I was out of sync, off my routine. I just wasn't prepared. I didn't get the job done. It's the whole aspect of throwing before the game, sitting down and doing this."
So, in other words, Maine believed he performed so poorly because he was coming into the game as a reliever- not a starter-, a role that requires a different type of mentality. According to Sean Henn, who has served as both a starter and reliever for the Yankees, and their AAA Minor League team, "Mentally, it's a huge difference between coming out of the bullpen and starting. As a starter, there's not really a sense of urgency there. You know that as long as you go out there and throw six innings and only give up a couple runs, you know you've done your job and given your team a chance to win. [Out of the bullpen], you definitely have to lock it in a lot quicker. You have to have your stuff right then, and you can't really fiddle around for it, because you could walk a guy and that could be it."
While that's just one man's explanation of what is different between starting and relieving, it's evidence that a different mentality is needed to start games and to relieve games. So, on John Maine's part, it's not simply him trying to deflect his poor performance away from himself. He performed poorly, and chalked it up to him not having the proper mindset. Can the "proper mindset" be taught or otherwise learned?
Let's have a look at John Maine's career numbers when coming out of the bullpen. Admittedly, the window we're looking at here is fairly small, but it can't be fully discounted in regards to what we're looking for here. His first appearance as a reliever came on August 20th, 2005, against the Cleveland Indians. He threw two innings, and gave up one hit, struck out one, and walked one. His next relief appearance came three days later, on August 23rd, against the Angels. That time, he pitched five innings, giving up five hits and two earned runs, and striking out two. His final relief appearance came on July 15th, 2006, against the Cubs. He pitched a single inning, giving up a hit and walked one. So, in total, his stats out of the bullpen look like this:
It's important to note that those numbers come from actual MLB games, before September. So, it's not as if this data is skewed because of September call-ups, or because it comes from exhibition games where the teams he faced were not composed of MLB-level talent. He's had some level of success, however limited and long ago, in the bullpen. So, for the talk of him not feeling comfortable pitching in relief of another pitcher, he has had limited success doing just that.
So, this leaves the question, if Maine's recent bout with ineffectiveness was due to him pitching in relief, instead of starting, is Maine cut out being a reliever? Was Maine simply lucky? Did he never have that "reliever's mentality", but trudged through those innings pitching decently enough, lucking out that he didn't perform poorly and embarrass himself? Or, perhaps, did he have the "reliever's mentality", but forget it since becoming a full-time starting pitcher, instead of a prospect on the cusp of the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues?
There probably isn't an actual answer, other than to put Maine in the bullpen and see what happens. Regardless of whether or not he actually is effective pitching out of the bullpen, it would signal something more important (at least to me)- a paradigm shift, in terms of the way the team is run. While, personally, I have become a fan of John Maine- primarily because of the affection my mom showers upon him because she finds him cute, and because his near no-hitter against the Marlins in 2007 was, perhaps, the most exciting baseball game I've watched/listened to in real-time- for too long, the Mets have seemingly been waiting on Maine to be healthy and put up a good season, for Oliver Perez to be healthy (and effective) and put up a good season, and so on. Should one (or the other) be shifted into the bullpen in favor of a more deserving (at the time, based on current performance) pitcher, it would show that the organization has realized that it shouldn't be sitting around on it's proverbial ass, waiting for all of the stars to align so that things end with a happy ending. The years of a cheap Jose Reyes and David Wright tick on whether or not John Maine, Oliver Perez, or whoever else is injured, ineffective, or whatever other problems ail them. Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana get older by the day, regardless of whether or not John Maine, Oliver Perez, or whoever else is injured, ineffective, or whatever other problems ail them. The "glory days" of 2006/2007 (most of 2007, anyway) are almost a half a decade in the past now, and we can't continue going on as if they were yesterday.