The U Files # 57: Tossing and Turning II

The Mets entered the 2003 season expecting that a strong year from veteran pitchers would allow the team to carry a rookie pitcher and an unsettled fifth starter. As it turned out, the veterans crossed over into the decline phase, the rookie was a boost in the rotation, and the final spot never settled itself. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

Jae Weong Seo (pronounced "suh") was signed by the Mets out of South Korea in 1998 due to the promise of his live arm. So impressed by the young hurler's promise that then-manager Bobby Valentine was personally involved in the signing. Seo pitched in limited action at the lowest levels of the minor leagues in 1998 and 1999, recording as many strikeouts as innings pitched. He was on a pace to gain mention as a touted hurler when elbow troubles wiped out most of his 1999 and his entire 2000 season. Since his return Seo has not displayed the dominating fastball he was reputed to have once possessed.

Seo's 2003 campaign should be considered a success for the professional sphere thrower, though it still leaves questions in the air. Seo did not go through any notable pains characteristic of many rookie pitchers, displaying an impressive poise and stable demeanor. Plus, Seo continued in a Korean tradition of bowing respectfully to the home plate umpire every time a new ball was put in play.

Though his ERA of 3.82 was marginally higher than Steve Trachsel's mark of 3.78, Seo did post the better peripherals. His walk rate was similarly low, even at a tepid 5.26 strikeouts per game he missed more bats, and Seo was better at keeping the ball in the park. With Al Leiter losing all concept of the strike zone and Glavine hardly resembling his former self, Seo posted the best overall peripheral rates of any Met starter. Though a disproportionate number of his runs were unearned, his run total was in line with his components. Even if his ERA was a bit lucky, he was average at worst and his 9 wins and 12 losses betray difficulty by the Mets offense in backing Seo's efforts.

Though Seo generally kept his fastball in the 86-89 MPH range, he popped in enough at up to 92 MPH to show he has the ability to do it. During the season there were rumblings that Seo may have been holding back. If this is the case and Seo can be persuaded to use more of his ability, he will become harder to hit and his upside would brighten. At class triple A Norfolk (the only minor league stop where he amassed a significant inning total) Seo posted a moderately higher strikeout rate – around 6 per game – but allowed more home runs. Even if he does evolve to miss more Major League bats, Seo will have to prove he is harder to slug against than he was for the Tides.

The last spot in the rotation, which featured Seo in it's fourth spot to begin the season, was originally granted to comebacker David Cone based on a strong showing in Spring Training. When it became painfully clear that Cone lacked the physical ability to put out on the field of battle, the job became a rotating door. Cone, though a good candidate for the Mets franchise Hall of Fame, has ended an enviable career.

This is what the morass of ungodliness that capped the Mets pitching order looked like:

Name

IP

R

ER

ERA

RA

David Cone

18.0

13

13

6.50

6.50

Aaron Heilman

65.1

53

49

6.75

7.30

Jeremy Griffiths

41.0

34

32

7.02

7.36

Pedro Astacio

36.2

30

30

7.36

7.36

Mike Bacsik

17.2

21

20

10.19

10.70

Total

178.2

151

144

7.25

7.61



Aaron Heilman entered his Major League debut with a solid minor league pedigree and in good repute among prospect analysts. With physical gifts considered in the range of a solid middle of the order pitcher, Heilman was considered a relatively safe bet due to his reputation as a highly polished pitcher. Also, Heilman's physical stature indicates the potential to chew up innings.

Heilman's showing in 2003 casts doubt on how ready he was. He certainly failed to live up to his good word of polish. He displayed solid "stuff" but had no ability to repeat his delivery. His release point wavered and the product of his efforts reflected this. The undone prospect has already worked with new, heralded pitching coach Rick Peterson at the Mets mini-camp, and will work further with him at his workshop in Birmingham, Alabama.

Jeremy Griffiths came in with less hype than Heilman, and struggled in all areas of pitching. Where Heilman at least maintained a respectable strikeout rate, Griffiths posted a rate below average. Griffiths struggled with his control, but not to the extreme degree that Heilman did. He gave up 5 home runs in 41 innings. He bears similarity to a former Met farmhand, Bobby Jones, but with somewhat more pop on his fastball. There is still the chance he could have such a career.

Pedro Astacio came to the Mets with the repute of having been one of the more successful pitchers to worn the garb of a Colorado Rockie. He also came with reports of trouble in the shoulder, and after a display of brilliance in the first half of 2002, suffered a complete meltdown. He came back in 2003, continuing where he left off at the end of 2002. He gave up eight home runs in just 36.2 innings – a rate of nearly two per nine innings. He has likely assured himself that if he does attempt a comeback, it will not be in the service of the Mets.

Mike Bacsik was a throw in the Mets received in a trade, and has not been able to master the triple A level, to say nothing of his chances of success in the Major Leagues. His numbers suggest his game is the place strikeouts come to die, and he gives up long balls as if he invites them. His "stuff" is subpar for levels lower than the big club. He is a pitcher the Mets call on to absorb a beating simply because no other pitcher is available.

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