Peterson Has Mets On Top Of Baseball At Break

Many expected the addition of Rick Peterson this past off-season to improve the Mets staff, but certainly not to these lengths and certainly not this fast. As the club prepares to enter the second half of a 2004 campaign in which they hope will end in a National League East title, Peterson has New York sitting with the best ERA in the game, a striking 3.73 and poised to get better as the organization looks to add talent at the deadline.

During a dismal 2003 that saw the team produce a last place, 66-95 effort, the club finished with a staff 4.48 ERA, which ranked tenth in the National League and eighteenth in baseball.

After the removal of Vern Ruhle, manager Art Howe pushed hard for Jim Duquette to inquire about the services of then Athletics pitching guru Rick Peterson, whom he had worked with in Oakland. Soon thereafter A's general manager Billy Beane agreed to let Peterson out of the final year of his contract and the Mets had themselves yet another new pitching coach.

R. Peterson
ALL SMILES: Veteran pitchers on the Mets staff, including John Franco (above left), have praised the work of new pitching coach Rick Peterson.
It's fair to say the move has paid dividends.

Thirty-eight-year-old Tom Glavine, coming of a horrific 2003 season in which he went 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA, is throwing the best baseball of his professional career. He ranks fourth in the NL in innings pitched (128.2), fifth in ERA (2.66), fifth in WHIP (1.09), and eighth in batting-average-against (.222). The left-hander has given a ton of credit to Peterson for aiding in his revival.

Saying Peterson is a advocate of Dr. James Andrews' biomechanics system may be the biggest understatement ever proclaimed. He lives and breathes by it. The program produces computer analysis of a pitcher's delivery, which, in turn, helps reduce the risk of injury and enhance performance.

"The system is based on the attitude and habits that great performers have," says Peterson.

When did this develop? When he was a coach in the Chicago White Sox organization and came in contact with Andrews.

"We went back to the Bob Gibson days and started looking at pitchers of that era and started asking the question, ‘Is there something that all these guys do that we could maybe design a system around?'"

Based on their findings of the various components that make up a pitcher's delivery, conditioning programs were devised. They aimed at allowing a major league pitcher to carry out these specific functions with the force necessary, in order to succeed, while not severely risking injury.

Many doubted how much success he would have in New York, considering he would be leaving the likes of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. It's safe to say he's made out alright.

In fact, many have blamed Barry Zito's disastrous season on the departure of Peterson. The young Oakland left-hander, who has been rumored to be on Billy Beane's trading block, is just 4-7 with a 4.62 ERA and is seventh in the American League with forty-six walks.

When Peterson arrived with Oakland prior to the 1998 season, he was inheriting a staff that finished with 5.49 ERA the year before -- last in the American League -- and also ranked last in the AL in walks, hits, and runs.

That began to change.

Following his arrival, the team's earned run average dropped considerably over the course of his first four seasons. In 1998 his staff finished with a 4.83 ERA (ninth in AL), 1999 at 4.69 (third), 4.58 in 2000 (third), 3.59 in 2001 (second), and at 3.68 in 2002 (first).

Whatever the man's doing, it works.

The graduate of Jacksonville University, with a degree in psychology, preaches staying ahead of hitters by throwing first pitch strikes. His playing career lasted four seasons in the Pirates organization from 1976-79 before being a player-coach with them for several years and later their bullpen coach. He was a pitching coach in the White Sox organization for six seasons prior to being hired as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1996-97.

R. Peterson
New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, right talks with pitcher Scott Kazmir at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2004. Kazmir and a number of Mets pitchers were being evaluated by the medical staff at the clinic in hopes of reducing injuries in the upcoming season. Peterson is holding and Kazmir is wearing small silver reflective balls used to help track and photograph the athletes motion. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Mark Mulder, did you believe, or at any rate understand, his biomechanics theory?

"I don't really understand it all either," Mulder said laughing. "But you know what? What he does and how he does it, he's been very successful and he's done a great job. More than anything, I know for me, as far as picking out little things in my mechanics, he did a great job with me helping me with that."

When the Mets first hired Art Howe, the manager attempted to bring Peterson along but it was to no avail. However, one year later he got his man.

"Rick Peterson does a great job," Howe told The Daily News. "He really studies the opposing clubs, their hitters, their strengths and weaknesses and gives the (pitchers) an idea, or so-called game plan, to go in and try to exploit their so-called weaknesses."

Veteran starters Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, and Steve Trachsel, along with reliever John Franco and many younger hurlers, have all praised his work and dedication to each and every game.

"He's going to help [the Mets] out," Mulder said at the time of Peterson's departure from Oakland, "and I can guarantee you they will be a much better pitching staff with him next year."

He was damn right.

E-mail baseball analyst Christopher Guy at CGGuy86@Yahoo.com

Quotes from both Mark Mulder and Rick Peterson were taken from WFAN 660 in New York, where both were interviewed at the time of the hiring.


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