For Mets Fans, There’s No Need To Panic … Yet

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

If you had given Mets fans the choice over the weekend of a possibly season-ending injury to Jose Reyes and a possibly season-ending injury to Tom Glavine, they probably would have had to think about which they’d prefer for a long time.

Reyes holds down the infield and keys the Mets’ offensive attack; the team does have some hitting to spare, though. Glavine, on the other hand, is the only Mets pitcher you can count on to be both healthy and effective — not something that will make that much of a difference for the rest of the regular season, but something that should, one thinks, make a big difference in October.

So of course as everyone waits for the results of tests on Glavine’s shoulder that will determine whether or not the cold he experienced in his left hand last week is a symptom of something that will end his season, it’s natural enough to panic. Losing Glavine is a very bad thing, but losing him when Pedro Martinez is already on the shelf — who was last seen struggling to throw the ball over the plate or even break 80 mph — is seemingly catastrophic.

As you may be able to tell from all the qualifiers here, I’m less than convinced that losing these two pitchers would mark the end of the Mets’ pennant chances, and can even make a bit of a devil’s advocate’s case for this position. The reason is this: Over the course of a single game, the difference between even the best and the worst pitchers is much smaller than almost anyone realizes.

To put it in perspective, think of it this way. Martinez, over the last three years, has on average allowed seven innings and three runs per start; Glavine, six innings and three runs per start. Michael Pelfrey, in his brief run with the Mets, averaged five and a third innings per start, and DaveWilliams, over the last three years, average five and two-thirds. Both, again, allowed three runs per game on average.

The differences between these pitchers is enormous, but it’s a matter of relatively marginal edges adding up over the course of seasons and of the value of consistently pitching at a certain level.

The accompanying chart shows the statistical chance of the Mets winning a game on the road in various scenarios, based on each hurler’s average game.What you immediately see is the enormous impact of not only the offense, but the timing of the offense. If Glavine pitches his typical game, allows three runs, and the Mets have only scored two, the Mets’ chance of winning the game is a third again as large as if Martinez does exactly the same thing.

You also see, more importantly, that the difference in these various scenarios isn’t that big at all. Pitching isn’t 90% of the game. You win by outscoring your opponent, not by having an ace on the hill, as the Atlanta Braves bitterly learned many times over.

This is of course a drastic oversimplification; the differences between Martinez and Glavine and Williams and Pelfrey are large. The veterans are far less likely to get blown out, far more likely to be able to execute a game plan or get by with less than their best stuff, and far less likely to simply melt down in the pressure of the playoffs.

Still, this oversimplification should put things in some perspective. Have any teams won the World Series in recent years with as unimposing a front four as Steve Trachsel, John Maine, Orlando Hernandez and one of Pelfrey or Williams would be? Absolutely not. Would such a rotation doom the Mets to oblivion? Again, absolutely not. Pitchers get hot, pitchers get cold. Derek Lowe had a 5.42 ERA in 2004 and won all three clinching games as the Red Sox raced to the championship. The Braves won one world title with Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and usually a fourth ace-caliber starter. Moreover, the bad news isn’t yet in on Glavine, and counting Pedro Martinez out is always a very, very foolish idea.

Pitchers are crucial. Starting pitchers win games, and make the difference between good and great teams. In a single game, though, Roger Clemens will give up ten sometimes, and Jose Lima will pitch a shutout sometimes, and even if both do what they more or less always do, it’s going to come down to who has the bats on their side as often as not. With a fine lineup, a superb defense, a deep and varied bullpen and an experienced manager, the Mets will have a good shot in a weak league even if their worst fears about their twin aces are realized. Until they are, there’s not much need to panic.

The New York Sun

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