MATT HARVEY, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: The expectations of Matt Harvey were minimal for this summer. The Mets’ 2010 first-round pick out of North Carolina – and the seventh choice overall – was to continue his development in the minor leagues. The best-case scenario had him continuing his development at Triple-A Buffalo and join the Mets as a September call-up, when he would make two or three starts to give the big club an idea of whether he would fit into their plans for 2013. Even when the Mets’ rotation started to crumble, the talk was he wasn’t ready and GM Sandy Alderson didn’t want to rush him to the major league level. The scouting report on the 23-year-old Harvey was he had a plus-fastball, good secondary pitches and the ability to keep his composure on the mound. At similar points in their careers, Harvey was rated ahead of Mike Pelfrey, the Mets’ first-round pick in 2005.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Harvey was 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 20 starts for the Bisons before the Mets promoted him in late July. Minor league hitters batted .233 against him and he had 112 strikeouts and only 48 walks in 110 innings, numbers that clearly indicated he was overpowering batters. With the Mets’ rotation in shambles, Alderson had no option but to elevate him to see what he could do on the next level. At the time, the Mets were fading and the summer was spiraling out of control. Unable or unwilling to make a midseason acquisition – take your pick – Alderson had to do something to keep the dwindling attention of Mets fans and Harvey was the answer. Harvey pitched 5.1 scoreless innings at Arizona, July 26 to win his major league debut. He struck out 11 and walked three to have Mets fans drooling about the possibilities. However, he was victimized by the Mets’ dismal offense and lost his next three starts – they gave him only four runs in those games – but there was still a lot to like about Harvey’s game, especially his willingness to challenge hitters and his walks-to-strikeouts ratio. Unlike Pelfrey, Harvey possessed a poise and calmness about him. His command was exceptional and his stuff overpowering. He seemed to get a strikeout whenever the situation demanded. Harvey finished his first year at 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He struck out 70 with 26 walks in 59 innings, and batters hit a paltry .200 with a .338 slugging percentage against him. The Mets shut him down after his Sept. 19 start against Philadelphia to conserve his arm.
LOOKING AT 2013: I don’t know if the Mets will conserve his innings next summer the way the Nationals did Stephen Strasburg. Let’s hope not, but if they are inclined to jump on that bandwagon, let’s hope they don’t yank the rug out from under him in September, but perhaps have him skip a start once a month. That would mean six starts and possibly up to 42 innings for the summer. The Mets are counting on him to be in the rotation on Opening Day and develop into a solid, consistent starter. Actually, they are counting on him to become a star. Anything less than that would be a disappointment.
NEXT: A look at the other pitchers who started games for the 2012 Mets.
MIKE PELFREY, RHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: After falling far short of the expectations of a No. 1 draft choice in 2005 – the ninth overall selection – Mike Pelfrey had what was thought to be a breakout year in 2010 when he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and career high 204 innings. Pelfrey did not have dominating numbers, but clearly made progressions in his approach to pitching that suggested he might become the pitcher the Mets hoped. Pelfrey finally was pitching with poise and guile. There was an undeniable composure he never displayed before and his pitch selection was far better. Hitters could no longer sit on his fastball because he was getting his secondary pitches over in fastball counts. Could Pelfrey finally become an ace? Well, no. Pelfrey regressed in 2011 going 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA. Hitters ripped him at a .286 clip with a .344 on-base percentage and crushed 21 homers. With two back-to-back polar opposite seasons, the Mets didn’t know what to expect from him for the $5.6 million they would pay.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Pelfrey started fast this year with a 2.29 ERA in three starts and resembled his 2010 performance. He pitched with composure in that window and the thought was perhaps he would take the next step. However, Pelfrey sustained an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery that finished his season. Would it also finish his Mets’ career?
LOOKING AT 2013: The cost conscious Mets, despite holes in their rotation, aren’t expected to tender Pelfrey a contract this December, even if they were to offer the maximum 20 percent cut from his $5.687 million contract. Many pitchers have rebounded from Tommy John surgery, so even if the Mets don’t bring him back there will be interest as there is no shortage of teams with pitching needs. If the Mets think they can cut him loose and bring him back at a discount, they should think again because at 28, he’s young enough to where his career isn’t over. Pelfrey is a career 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA and .284 batting average against him. Of all the statistics on his resume, his age is the one most likely to cause the Mets to take a flier on him again. Considering the potential holes in the Mets’ rotation and bullpen and inevitable need for pitching, he might be worth the gamble. If healthy, he could give the Mets close to 200 innings. With Johan Santana gone after 2013, the Mets will need a starter and there are no guarantees from Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler or Jenrry Mejia. The idea has also been floated of putting Pelfrey in the bullpen with potential of eventually becoming the closer.
NEXT: Matt Harvey
JONATHAN NIESE, LHP
PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Jonathan Niese was another Mets pitcher who went into spring training coming off an injury. He pulled a right rib cage muscle in Sept. 2011, while pitching against the Phillies and was shut down. Two years earlier, Niese’s season ended with a severely pulled hamstring. While the Mets weren’t worried about his arm, two muscle pulls had them wonder if he was susceptible to such injuries. Foolishly, Niese felt discomfort in his previous start, but continued to pitch against the Phillies. In 2010 and 2011, Niese won nine and 11 games, respectively, and displayed composure and an ability to work out of trouble. Niese doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but throws a plus cutter and fall-off-the-table curveball. When he’s able to command those pitches, it increases the effectiveness of his fastball. Assuming his health, the Mets expected him to continue to develop and hopefully win as many as 15 games as a No. 3 starter.
2012 SEASON REVIEW: Although Niese fell short of 15 victories, he continued to make strides to become one of the Mets’ most reliable pitchers. Satisfied he was healthy, the Mets signed Niese to a $25.5 million contract extension with team options for 2017 and 2018. Largely unproven, the Mets were banking on Niese’s potential and at the time GM Sandy Alderson said he was the type of player the club could build around. The contract enables the Mets to avoid arbitration and Niese’s first shot at free agency, which is paramount in cost control. Niese tied his career high of 30 starts and logged 190.1 innings. Niese, like most Mets’ starters save R.A. Dickey, suffered from a lack of run support and bullpen collapses. Niese responded from a combined 4-5 in July and August to win this final three starts to finish at 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Niese had an impressive 155-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and worked into the seventh inning or longer in 17 appearances. He only had two starts in which he did not work at least five innings. Niese did miss a start after he was pulled for a June 3 game with a rapid heartbeat.
LOOKING AT 2013: Although Niese did not have a reoccurrence of the rapid heartbeat in the second half, he will undergo surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to alleviate the problem. It is considered minor surgery, but anything involving the heart can’t be thought of as minor. Figuring he will make a full recovery, the Mets expect him to build on 2013. Considering his age and salary, he would be in high demand on the trade market, but a pitcher of Niese’s potential is exactly what the franchise needs. Niese’s overall numbers were good and assuming he receives run support – the Mets failed to score more than three runs in 17 starts – 15 victories and 200-plus innings should be reachable. Niese would enter next year as the No. 3 starter assuming everything works in the positive with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey.
TOMORROW: Dillon Gee, RHP