The U Files # 53: Tossing and Turning

The Mets have traditionally been known for pitching moreso than ball smashing prowess. It was certainly the case in the last iteration of the Mets that the offense was offensive to viewers. Though, the pitching was only a strength in being less of a weakness. Here we will look back on a trio of veteran pitchers that were counted on to anchor the rotation.

One can make an unfairly good living as a professional sphere thrower, and the Mets are giving some throwers a particularly cushy existence. Two of them have been able to boost a team's fortunes significantly in the past but grow aged. A third has the resume of providing many innings of no more value than taking stress off other components of a staff.

Al Leiter has been the ace starter of the Mets since 1998. Over that period, including 2003, his ERA has never been as high as league average, and has reached a zenith at 36 percent lower. 2003 in actual unadjusted ERA was Leiter's worst year since 1999. At the beginning of the season there was much hubbub about a sharing of wisdom between Leiter and freshly imported ace Tom Glavine. Whatever the root of Leiter's early season pitching style, it was not effective for him.

Leiter in the first half of the season maintained about a league average strikeout rate (6.6 k/9), an acceptable (nearly average) home run rate (1 per 8.8 IP), but walked Lalooshian totals (5.85/9). Additionally, the league hit him for a .308 clip on balls in play, which is at least partially attributable to the defense behind him. The hit rate and walks are atypical of Leiter especially, and the home runs a bit high for him.

In the second half, Leiter maintained a moderately higher strikeout rate (7.3 k/9), a walk rate more typical of Leiter (3.3 bb/9), allowed just four home runs in 83.2 IP, and his hit rate on balls in play normalized, lowering to .256 (his season average was very normal).

Leiter's runs allowed numbers in both halves and overall are lower than his component run allowed number. His component runs overall are twelve runs higher than he actually allowed. His earned run average is not so heavily affected since he allowed only three unearned runs all season. On the whole he was close to average. It would not be unreasonable for Leiter to allow 30 or more fewer walks next season, which would result in ten or more fewer runs allowed.

Tom Glavine was signed to a three year, $35 million contract before the season. The longtime co-ace alongside Greg Maddux, prior a lifetime Atlanta Brave, was 36 years old at the time. It could have been reasonably expected that Glavine suffer a decline at some point during the contract, especially as a pitcher with low strikeout rates (a breed conclusively shown to age faster than high strikeout pitchers). Unfortunately, Glavine fell off sooner rather than later.

Glavine had posted better actual run allowed numbers than component numbers (expected runs calculated based on strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hits allowed) over the totality of his career, and that was the case in 2003 as well. His ERA was not heavily affected, since like Leiter, he allowed very few unearned runs (2). Glavine had also been noted for consistently low hit rates on balls in play, whether due to excellent defensive support (as many have suspected) or due to some ability on his part, and this did not show up for Glavine in 2003.

Glavine's performance was not merely a summing of outside influences, though. His strikeout rate, typically low, fell to a disturbingly low level (4.03 k/9). A pitcher whose success rested largely on his ability to limit home runs, Glavine saw his gopher ball rate climb in 2003. For his career prior to 2003, Glavine had allowed just .665 home runs per nine innings. In 2003, he gave up 1.03 home runs per game.

Steve Trachsel had established himself as an innings eating end-of-the-rotation pitcher by the time he was signed by the Mets in 2001. In the last two years, he has enjoyed some apparent success, though his actual pitching has not been good. In 2002, his ERA was deceptively low since he gave up a great number of unearned runs. In 2003, his actual runs allowed were ten runs fewer than his component runs allowed. Trachsel had below average peripherals; striking out just 4.88 batters per nine innings, and allowing one home run every 7.87 innings (1.14 HR per 9 innings).

The Mets will be paying Leiter, Glavine and Trachsel very significant amounts of money for what likely will not be performance worthy of the price. Of the three only Leiter is the one with a fair chance to be an effective pitcher. Glavine at his age is not likely to pitch much better than he did in 2003, and Trachsel has been average at best despite his deceptive ERA – he is not likely to post such an ERA again.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories