02/05/2011 6:44 PM ET
Analyzing the Mets 2011 starting pitchers
Not a bad staff, and much stronger when Santana returns
By Michael Salfino / SNY.tv
Mike Pelfrey, though not the ace of the Mets staff, can certainly be considered a strong number two or three starter. (AP)

The baseball season officially begins when my Wise Guy Baseball annual arrives in the mail. Gene McCaffrey is not only the most entertaining, but also the most astute player picker out there. Let's see what he has to say about the Mets starting pitching staff from his book and provide either a second or a counterpoint.

Johan Santana

McCaffrey: "When they say 'maybe June' in January they usually say 'maybe August' in June. As long was there are no setbacks, an OK reserve pick (in fantasy leagues) if you don't mind staring at his roster slot and wondering what to do."

Boy, that's some cold water there on Mets optimism, which requires at least 150 innings from Santana. Perhaps the Mets are tempering their recent troubles in accurately assessing injuries by erring on the long-side of his recovery here. That's the only hope to grab onto now, and it's an awfully thin reed that that.

R.A. Dickey

McCaffrey: "The surprise of the year, which came about because he threw 55% groundballs and vastly improved his control, from 4.1 (BB/9) the previous two years to 2.2. Knuckleballers are by definition vulnerable to the home run, but Citi Field helped and will continue to help. Don't expect another 2.84 (ERA)/1.19 (baserunners per inning) but 3.40/1.27 ain't bad at all."

I stuck my neck out on Dickey in the Wall Street Journal when most were still looking for warts. So I feel personally invested in him and was thrilled the Mets locked him up for two years. He'll be at least a solid No. 3 starter. He's 36 so he probably has only eight or nine good years left throwing those wiffleballs. Dickey has a trick pitch that he throws in a tricky way -- very fast (relatively speaking).

Jonathan Niese

McCaffrey: "A pitcher's HR/FB should be affected by his home park but Niese's was inflated by Citi Field and this should change. Likewise his hit rate. Still Young at 24 but the control is already pretty good at 3.2 (BB/9). Groundballer with 7.7 Ks/9. He's just an inch away."

I've been drafting Niese late everywhere in the magazines I write for, and that's where you really want to gamble on upside, which I think Niese has. He throws quite hard for a lefty (a hair short of 90 mph on average). His Pitch/FX profiles very close to San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner, who everyone loves. Gene has Bumgarner at $17 and Niese at $13 (those seem like AL-, NL-only league prices). Give me Niese and the extra $4.

Mike Pelfrey

McCaffrey: "Interesting in a minor way....Groundballer with 3.0 (walks per nine) control. I notice that (Ron Shandler's Baseball) Forecaster says his 3.68 ERA was 'driven' by his Strand Rate. But 74% is not inflated, especially for a ground-ball pitcher. They get double plays and thus runners are stranded."

I think we need to see the glass as half full with Pelfrey instead of viewing him as a disappointment because he was drafted to be a dominating ace and he will never be that. He is mid-rotation worthy on a contending team and that isn't chopped liver. This Mets rotation is an ace away from being good and that ace, Santana, seems so close, but probably in an illusory way.

Chris Young

McCaffrey: "Pitched quite well at the end of 2010 and while we should not expect a full season, he's a good guy to start with and milk awhile. Good spring news, by which I mean health alone, and he's going to leap higher on my list."

This was a very good signing, part of a series of shrewd, low-risk, potentially high-reward moves made by the team's new brain trust. Young is a very weird pitcher -- a 6-10 finesse righty. A guy like that has such a long stride that he probably cuts about one foot off distance between his release and home plate. That could be a difference maker in a game where success or failure is often measured in milliseconds.

Chris Capuano

McCaffrey: "Just like the old days, home-run vulnerable. But the fastball was decent and the control was there, too. Disaster potential but upside, too."

He got all his velocity back 15 months post Tommy John surgery when typical full recovery (for those who make it) takes an average of 18 months. So maybe there is a little more stuff to come. But what we saw in September last year is certainly enough to make him a favorite to be the fifth starter until Santana comes back.

Michael Salfino writes for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! and is a regular contributor to SNY.tv.
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