Mets can go two ways for No. 5
Park, Pelfrey are leading hopefuls to take final spot in rotation
JUPITER, Fla. -- While Mike Pelfrey was in Lakeland, Fla., on Wednesday using a four-inning relief appearance as a stepping stone to a Shea Stadium mailing address, Julio Franco was in the Mets' clubhouse in Port St. Lucie, Fla., wondering about the team's rotation.
Baseball's senior citizen wasn't handicapping the competition for the final vacancy in the Mets' rotation. Matters of that nature, Franco said, are strictly the domain of manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Peterson. Rather, Franco was assessing what he had seen from Chan Ho Park, the veteran starter the Mets signed as insurance if Pelfrey isn't ready for prime time.
Franco had seen enough. Park, he said, has enough to provide what Steve Trachsel provided last season -- innings and victories -- and probably, as Trachsel prompted last season, few compliments.
"With our offense and what [Park] has, he could win 15 games," Franco said.
That may be a Dwight Stones leap of faith, but it's Spring Training and Franco's 48-year-old legs feel strong. And the Mets do need someone to provide something comparable to what Trachsel provided. Any team with postseason aspirations knows it needs one pitcher to exceed expectations -- in victories, if not performance.
Trachsel did that in 2006, winning 15 games in the last of his six seasons with the Mets. The team won 20 of his 30 starts, a .667 winning percentage exceeded in the National League by percentage (.750) in games started by Tom Glavine.
Because Trachsel's ERA was high -- 4.97, slightly less than a half-run higher than the NL norm -- the conclusion/assumption was that he prospered primarily because of the support the Mets provided.
Support was part of it, of course. The Mets scored, on average, 5.5 runs in Trachsel's starts. The support afforded no other regular Mets starter matched or exceeded that figure -- the number in Glavine's starts was 5.38 -- and the support afforded only two other NL pitchers with at least 25 starts exceeded Trachsel's figure.
At the same time, Park made 21 starts with the Padres, and they averaged 5.19 runs per start in his games. Trachsel's record was 15-8, Park's 7-7.
A difference of .31 runs per start doesn't justify the 181-point disparity in their winning percentages. Nor do these other figures.
But the Mets' bullpen, the best in the NL last season, and their tendency to score early last season explains some of that disparity. Other elements, timing being the most critical, come into play. The Mets didn't score 5.5 runs in each of Trachsel's starts. It was an average. They did score 52 in a seven-start sequence in which he won seven times. But they also scored six runs total in his last four starts, and he won once.
Those six runs were just as much a part of the 5.5 average as the 52. Spread the 52 around a little, and Trachsel might have won 17 games and lost six or won 13 and lost nine.
It's the ambiguity of the game at work. Some call it the "unseen hand." It was responsible for Tug McGraw beating Sandy Koufax or Tommy Hutton wearing out Tom Seaver.
The Trachsel-Park comparison is part of that phenomenon. Bob Waterman of the Elias Sports Bureau said: "Each year there probably is one pitcher -- maybe two -- whose record is so out of whack with his performance, but it can't be explained."
That doesn't mean Park is that pitcher this year. But perhaps Franco's right about Park, or maybe Pelfrey will be the No. 5 starter. He is having the kind of exhibition season that turns heads and changes the minds inside.
With Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and even John Maine not likely to pitch beyond the sixth inning and with the bullpen a tad unsettled, the Mets need some pitcher strong enough and effective enough to pitch into the seventh once in a while.
Pelfrey is a ground-ball pitcher who doesn't need to throw six pitches to get an out. And he's young and strong. And he, too, gets the Franco endorsement -- in one word: "Wow!"
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.