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Mudville: April 22, 2024 12:58 pm PDT

Pitching White Whale

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Sometimes you just have to find a place for young players and hope for the best.

Sometimes you need to shake up the roster.

The Mets need a jolt and should call up youngsters Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio.

Going into Wednesday night’s game in Cincinnati the Mets had lost 12 of 15. It’s not just the losses, it’s the ways they’re losing games. On Tuesday night the Reds desperately tried to give the Mets the game, but the Mets didn’t take it – losing 7-6. Much of the talk after the game was about the missed interference call by the umpire at second base (and the other three umpires who also missed it); but make no mistake, the Mets lost this game – the umpires did not lose this game to a really bad team in the Reds.

Once again the Mets got a dreadful performance from a starting pitcher; this time it was lefty David Peterson.

The Mets have some deep issues right now and they don’t look like a team that will go far in the postseason (again), if they even make it to the “everybody in the pool postseason’’ that Rob Manfred has created.

Essentially, Manfred has turned the regular season into a meaningless slog. Just win enough games to get to the postseason party. Emulate what the Phillies did last season when they were 21-29 on June 1 and managed to make it to the World Series.

The Mets need to snap out of it – they are playing uninspired baseball.

Stir it up Mets, see what you have in Vientos and Mauricio; and that’s why Carlos Beltran was dispatched to Syracuse. Billy Eppler needs to turn around this Mets mess quickly. The starting pitching is putting the Mets in such a hole night after night that more offense is needed. There’s a lot of stress on the bullpen with the starters struggling mightily.

But if the Mets don’t fix the starting pitching, of course, none of this matters.

If the Mets continue to pitch the way they’re pitching now, they have no chance. Here are some disturbing numbers, Mets fans. The Mets are 23rd in ERA with a 4.82 mark. But that’s not the worst of it. Mets starters have put up a 5.44 ERA, 26th in MLB; and their 173.2 total innings pitched is 28th.

They are not pitching well and they are not getting length, the perfect combination for disaster.

In case you need to be reminded, the Mets are paying Max Scherzer $43.3 million this season. In case you need to be reminded, the Mets are paying Justin Verlander $43.3 million this season. Steve Cohen is learning some financial lessons about owning a baseball team.

Not as easy as you thought.

Owners, have you ever thought about all the money you have sitting on the injured list?

The Scherzer injury list is long; neck spasms forced his latest cancelled start after back issues. Justin Verlander made only his second start of the season Wednesday night, against the Reds, after being sidelined by shoulder issues.

But Verlander gave the Mets seven excellent innings Wednesday night, in their 2-1 win over the Reds.

The Mets are going to need both Scherzer and Verlander to get rolling.

It should be noted the Mets let Seth Lugo get away to San Diego, and Lugo is off to a 3-2 start with a 3.21 ERA over six starts. The righthander is making $7.5 million this season. Scherzer is 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA.

The Mets did fine signing Kodai Senga, who is 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA, but Jose Quintana (rib surgery) has yet to throw a pitch for them and Carlos Carrasco is on rehab assignment.

Yes, despite all their high hopes, the starting pitching has been pretty horrible for the Mets as they find themselves already quite far back of the Braves.

It must be noted that when Eppler was the GM of the Angels, they had major pitching issues, too.

Starting pitching has been Eppler chasing the White Whale. He needs to fix that.

Here are the hard, cold numbers. In 2016, Eppler’s first year as GM of the Angels, they finished 21st in ERA with a 4.28 mark. In 2017 they moved up to 12th at 4.20. In 2018 they slipped to 19th with a 4.15 mark – and then the bottom fell out. In both 2019 and the shortened 2020 season they finished 25th. They registered a 5.12 ERA in 2019 and a 5.09 mark in 2020.

Pete Alonso #20 and Mark Vientos #27 of the New York Mets in action against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field on September 14, 2022 in New York City. The Cubs defeated the Mets 6-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Starting pitching was the issue. In 2016 the Angels starters were 20th with a 4.60 mark. In 2017 they moved up to 12th at 4.38. But in 2018 the Angels starters registered a 4.34 ERA to finish 19th and, again, the starters’ ERA nosedived in both 2019 and 2020. The starters finished with the 29th worst ERA in 2019 at 5.64 and then in 2020 they were 29th again at 5.52.

Of course there are always some extenuating circumstances for those numbers, but the bottom line is the Angels’ pitching was a major failure, especially the starters, during Eppler’s stewardship; and now the Mets, despite spending a ridiculous $86.8 million on two starters this season, somehow find themselves in the same boat, cast adrift.

The good news is that it’s only May 11th. There’s plenty of time to get this right, plenty of time to have the starting pitching come around for the Mets.

To do that though, the Mets and Eppler have to wrestle with Father Time, too. Verlander is 40. Scherzer turns 39 on July 27th.

And look, just to be fair, every team it seems has multiple pitching issues and pitching injuries.

The Yankees feasting this week on the A’s, who should be considered an expansion team at best, have not yet gotten an inning out of Carlos Rodon, after giving him a six-year, $162 million contract. The Braves’ Max Fried is on the IL with a forearm strain, and will be sidelined for quite a while, as the Braves seek their sixth straight NL East title.

Fried joins Kyle Wright, who is out with a shoulder injury. Spencer Strider moves into the ace role for Atlanta; but some believe, like pitching mechanics guru Jim Curnal (a former Yankee minor league pitcher), that it’s only a matter of time before Strider, who underwent TJ surgery in 2019, encounters another serious problem. Braves pitchers Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa both underwent recent Tommy John surgery. Perhaps the Braves’ pitching will eventually become so injury ridden they will not be able to hold onto first place.

MLB clubs, if you want to further consider Curnal’s amazing mechanics breakdown of pitchers, you can email him at tap27@comcast.net and you can say AMBS sent you. You’ve really got nothing to lose; your way isn’t cutting it, except through the many surgeries throughout all levels of the baseball world.

Like I said, injuries, especially pitching injuries, are everywhere. The Rangers’ Jacob deGrom, just for example, has become the poster child for injuries.

Ronny Mauricio #60 of the New York Mets in action against the Miami Marlins in the Spring Training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 21, 2022 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, this current MLB leadership across the board has not been able to curtail injuries to pitchers; and in fact there seem to be more injuries overall than ever. They talk a good game, and the owners fall for their elitist explanations time and again, but the problem with this Nerd Revolution is that pitchers continue to get seriously hurt.

Owners, have you ever thought about all the money you have sitting on the injured list?

“When are we going to address the elephant in the room as an industry?’’ one longtime talent evaluator asked BallNine of the rash of injuries in this Analytics Age of Aquarius.

All the club owners, team presidents, GMs, farm directors, training staffs, and team doctors should be put in one room and have this question asked of them. Do it at the Winter Meetings.

“Tell me what you’re doing that’s working. Because I’ve seen more injuries than I have ever seen in my life,’’ the evaluator said. “When are you going make the players get back on the baseball field and make the baseball players better baseball players?’’

That is the essential question. Make them better baseball players. And how come no one in charge of baseball can recognize that?

I’m going to use their own terminology about the level of play, where players get hurt doing baseball things, and in the process can’t make simple baseball plays.

It’s trending downward.

Rays reliever Garrett Cleavinger suffered a right ACL injury the other day against the Yankees in a simple rundown. Plays like this happen time and again.

I would add it’s not just one elephant in the room, it is a herd of elephants in the room. I remember GMs telling me 10 years ago they were going to get ahead of the problem because they are studying the pitching injury problem like never before – and they have really, really smart people working for them.

My response: Really?

Justin Verlander #35 of the New York Mets receives the ball in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 10, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Yes, I’m still waiting.

Harsh truths have a way of making those in charge of baseball uncomfortable. The curtain is pulled away. Baseball or Bust is pulling away the curtain again.

Of course, the super smart experts didn’t solve anything, and bad mechanics are at the root of this problem. Instead of chasing good mechanics, baseball is chasing velocity instead of clean deliveries. Past generations threw hard too, by the way; and let’s not forget the old radar gun measured differently yet this is really nothing new. Other factors have changed. It’s a no win situation and with the number of pitching injuries throughout the game, this truly is a war of attrition. It’s only mid-May and pitchers are dropping like flies.

I am certainly not here to blame pitching coaches. This is a much deeper issue than pitching coaches. The bottom line is that teams must be healthy as they get down the stretch. Manfred’s regular season is merely a streaming service, it doesn’t really matter. It is just content for regional providers.

The real and only show starts in October.

As an aside, that is just another thing they have screwed up. I’m old enough to remember when the regular season was The Season. Not that we have to go all the way back to 1960 and a National League winner and an American League winner in the World Series and that’s it for the postseason, but this level of postseason and this wild card round is a bit ridiculous. Why does a wild card team that snuck into the postseason get rewarded with a best of three series? If you want to play in a series, win your division. Make that count for something.

And this new everyone plays everyone everywhere schedule is a bit much. Sure, the Yankees enjoy playing a patsy like the A’s more often, especially after losing two of three to the Rays and being able to set up their bullpen for the next Rays series beginning Thursday; but there is no way an A’s-Yankees series has the same feel as a Yankees-Red Sox series.

Along those schedule lines, a scout sent me an interesting note this week.

“Why does MLB lay the schedule out the way they do? I think it’s awful. You shouldn’t play a team, then the next week play them again. Pitchers are having back-to-back starts against the same teams. And if you have a guy on the 10-day IL, he misses 50 percent of the games played against one team. It’s horrible.’’

Those are all thoughtful, solid points made by a true baseball man. Good questions.

Manfred Minion Morgan Sword would never understand those scheduling concerns.

This schedule also contributes to the mediocrity and the overall Lowering of the Bar, which should be MLB’s new slogan.

It used to be “Baseball Fever. Catch It!” Like the Mel Allen commercial for the 1984 World Series. Or the “Pete Rose Baseball Fever. Catch It!” in 1979.

Now it’s all about how many bets you can make in a game. And yet Pete still isn’t in the Hall of Fame. But there is even a BETMGM Sportsbook at Great American Ballpark.

The beat goes on. Injuries continue to spike upward. Empty words continue to be spoken.

Baseball Fever. Catch It!

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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