Monday, February 08, 2010

Can John Maine's Struggles Be Explained By Calling Him a "Thrower" Instead of a Pitcher?

Metsblog forwarded an article on to us from Metsmerized Online where they say that that John Maine's struggles can be blamed on his inability to mature as a pitcher. I'll let the article speak for itself:

It takes time to learn the game and learn the hitters. One has to become a ‘pitcher’ and not a ‘thrower.’ However, John Maine has shown none of this. And he needs to!
* * *
...over time, John has not really improved. He is still a thrower, not a pitcher. He has not grown at all in 4 seasons and is no more of a force now then he was as a rookie, maybe even less. Not only have his numbers not improved but they have actually gotten worse.

His ERA has risen each year from 3.60 to 3.91 to 4.18 to 4.43. His K/9 has decreased from 7.1 in 06 to 6.1 in 09. He is walking more batters now then he used to, going from 3.3 in his rookie season to 4.2 last year. He also needs to learn how to conserve pitches. One of his big shortcomings has been his inability to pitch deep into games.
* * *
But if Maine continues to flounder yet again, to not reach back for something extra, I see us spending a long summer counting down between Johan’s starts.
Is that really a fair assessment?

In a word? No. Often times we see articles like this about a player who is struggling, with the author blaming their struggles on something definitive. We've seen it with the Mets many times even in the last twelve months. Maine is a thrower. Oliver Perez is crazy. Mike Pelfrey has the yips and is also crazy.

Listen - I understand that people want to have explanations for things that happen. It's much easier to cope with a problem if you can diagnose it and then place the blame on something. Why'd the Mets choke? Because Reyes celebrates too much. Why'd Heilman give up that home run? Because he's not a gamer. And so on.

But that's not how real life works. There doesn't have to be an easy explanation. It is too simple to look at Maine's rising ERA and blame it on his approach to pitching, especially without any evidence. This is how rumors get started and players get run out of town.

I've watched Maine pitch for years. Sure, he hasn't made strides forward. But he's been injured a lot. He struggled last year and has had shoulder problems for years. And for what it's worth (and I HATE to say this) but Maine was probably just not that good to begin with.

Metsmerized points out Maine's rising ERA as evidence that he's going backwards. But a look deeper reveals a far more logical explanation:

2006: 3.60 ERA -- 4.90 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, .228 BABIP
2007: 3.91 ERA -- 4.18 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, .288 BABIP
2008: 4.18 ERA -- 4.40 FIP, 1.35 WHIP, .280 BABIP
2009: 4.43 ERA -- 4.57 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, .253 BABIP
(FIP = Fielding Independent Pitching, WHIP = walks+hits per inning, BABIP = batting average on balls in play)

A look at the ERA shows a clear upward trend, but the other numbers do not. The far more likely scenario is that John Maine is not as good as he appeared in 2006. He was lucky that year - his .228 BABIP is incredibly low. How low?

John Maine had the lowest BABIP of ANY pitcher in baseball who pitched at least 80 innings in 2006. The lowest. In fact, only one player in the last four years has had a BABIP that low (the hard-throwing Carlos Marmol in 2008).

I certainly hope that Maine can take a step forward this year by staying healthy and regaining his old strikeout numbers. But no one should expect him to be the John Maine of 2006 again. The John Maine we saw in 2007 was very valuable, and I'd love for him to be able to bounce back to that. But to call him a "thrower" isn't accurate. He pitches just fine - he just is what he is.


Rob A from BBD said...

I always thought his biggest problem was his inability to stay healthy.

Brian said...

Well, that too. I don't think he's going to be any better than 4.00 ERA if he is healthy -- but health would help.

A full season of John Maine at that level would be incredibly helpful... that would be like adding Bronson Arroyo or Derek Lowe or any other #3 starter for free.