Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Heilman!

Over the past four seasons, Aaron Heilman has gone through more ups and downs than the Dow Jones. After failing to establish himself as a starting pitcher, the Mets moved Heilman to the bullpen during the 2005 season, even though Heilman wanted to be a starter. Since then, Heilman has been a stalwart in the Mets bullpen for the better and for worse. (and has maintained his desire to pitch in the starting rotation)

For better:
Heilman was fantastic from 2005-2007 during the regular season by establishing himself as a reliable set up man who could pitch multiple innings. His ability to get both lefties and righties out made him a favorite of ex-Mets Manager Willie Randolph.

For worse:
Yadier Molina. Just typing that name brings back bad images in my head. Molina crushed a hanging change-up from Heilman to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in game 7 of the NLCS. The Mets ultimately lost the game and propelled the Cardinals to the World Series.

2008. Heilman bounced back in 2007 after the Yadier Molina homer to have his best statistical season to date. But for some reason, Heilman struggled mightily in 2008. Heilman seemed to have established himself as a reliable set up man, but this season, he fell off the map. Lefties hit .308 against Heilman, which was shocking because Heilman performed well throughout his career against both lefties and righties. By the end of the season, Heilman was relegated to the back of the Mets bullpen, often the focal point of the many boo birds at Shea Stadium.

So it should come as no surprise that Heilman has asked once again to be moved to the rotation or to be traded. As much as Heilman frustrated Mets fans this season, moving Heilman to the rotation, or at least giving him a shot to start, makes all the sense in the world.

For starters, the Mets only have three guys penciled into the starting rotation right now, so perhaps Heilman could fill one of those spots (or at least compete with Jonathan Niese). If this happens, the Mets would have no need to bring in competition (i.e Pedro) to battle with Niese during Spring Training and they could focus their efforts on rebuilding the bullpen and adding depth to the roster.

The knack against Heilman over the years is that he could only throw two pitches. Heilman has a great change up and a pretty good (sometimes explosive) fastball, but has lacked consistency with his slider. To me, this is a prime example of knit picking. One of the Mets best starting pitchers is Mike Pelfrey, a guy who has one plus pitch (fastball) and a decent slider, but is successful because he continually pounds the strike zone and has excellent command. Obviously Heilman is a completely different pitcher than Pelfrey, but the Mets can impose the same philosophy with Heilman that they did with Pelfrey, then I think Heilman can be successful. Remember folks, Heilman has great stuff.

Also, the Mets love to bring up Heilman's previous struggles as a starting pitcher. To that, I say hogwash. Most of those numbers are from 2003 and 2004, a time in which Heilman was struggling to find himself on the major league stage. Since then, Heilman has experienced success as a pro and changed his arm slot. Heilman is a completely different pitcher now than he was five years ago.

Furthermore, if the Mets trade Heilman, Omar Minaya would be selling Heilman at his lowest point. At no point over the last four years has Heilman's value been lower. Since the Mets still control Heilman's rights for the next two seasons, it makes sense to see what he can do as a starter to see if his value will increase.

For Mets fans, the obvious benefit here is that Heilman would be out of the rotation, now unable to blow anymore leads in the excruciating fashion that has become his trademark. Fewer sleepless nights and ulcers are definitely a good thing for the panicky fan base (I know this all too well).
(Photo: Daylife)

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