Tuesday, June 22, 2010
A hard-thrower history lesson
By Mark Simon
Tuesday will mark the first time that the Mets see Tigers righthander, Justin Verlander, who may break the Citi Field radar guns with his sometimes-overpowering fastball.
Verlander threw 15 pitches in 2009 that the Pitch F/X system tracked at 100 miles-per-hour, peaking at 100.8. That was the most such pitches of any major league starter last year. He’s thrown eight so far in 2010, including one in his last start that resulted in a strikeout of Ryan Zimmerman.
Verlander’s teammate, Joel Zumaya, led the majors with 135, and is averaging 99.3 miles-per-hour per pitch in 2010, but there are no guarantees the Mets will see him, and they won’t see him for nearly as many innings as they’ll see Verlander.
Verlander is averaging almost 96 miles-per-hour on his fastball, the fastest velocity among American League starters. There are two pitchers the Mets could see later this season -- Ubaldo Jimenez and Stephen Strasburg -- who throw harder, but Verlander’s first up, so he’s our topic of the day.
The Mets have had varying degrees of success against starting pitchers whose fastball challenged triple digits on the radar gun. Recent opponents have included Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens, both of whom the Mets handled well in the latter stages of their career (they also had modest success, albeit without great numbers against Nolan Ryan after he joined the Astros in 1980).
The Mets saw a Kerry Wood in Cleveland last week who was a shell of the pitcher who gave them a lot of trouble in the prime of his career from 1998 to 2003.
The oldest of Mets fans may remember Jim Maloney, a flamethrowing righty of similar ilk to Verlander whose prime years were from 1963 to 1966, ages 23 to 26.
Maloney threw four shutouts against the Mets in that stretch, a one-hitter, a two-hitter, a three-hitter, and a five-hitter. He also had another start in which he took a one-hit shutout into the ninth and his last start against the Mets was a 1-0 win in 1969 in which he allowed two hits in 8 2/3 innings.
But the game for which Maloney is best known was actually a loss to the Mets. On June 14, 1965, Maloney struck out 18 batters and took a no-hitter into the 11th inning, but a lack of run support kept the game even until Johnny Lewis homered leading off the frame. Maloney, whose career would end early due to arm issues and a torn Achilles, would finish a hard-luck 1-0 loser, despite pitching an 18-strikeout two-hitter.
The Mets won’t be complaining if they get a similar result.
Speaking of near no-nos, Thursday, the Mets will see a softer Tigers tosser: Armando Galarraga who shares something in common with them. He's never thrown a no-hitter, though he's come about as close as close can be.
The fate Galarraga suffered against the Indians on June 2 was very Metsian in nature, losing a perfect game against the Indians on a missed call by first base umpire Jim Joyce.
Mets fans may have a particular sympathy for this or they may say "Try walkng in our shoes!" After all, their team has now gone more than 7,700 games without one.
One thing to watch on Tuesday: Whether Austin Jackson starts for the Tigers in center field, not just because he can can hit, but because of his defensive ability.
Baseball Info Solutions, which has a +/- system that charts every ball hit based on how often it's turned into an out, has Jackson rated at +13/+22, the best in the majors.
What does this mean?
If you took Jackson and an average centerfielder positioned at normal depth, and hit them the same balls that were hit Jackson's way, Jackson would turn 13 more of them into outs than the average player, and those 13 balls would have accounted for 22 bases (combining potential singles, doubles, triples). That could be attributable both to Jackson's skill and where he's positioned by the Tigers coaching staff.
Translation: Jackson steals would-be hits frequently, and if he's healthy (he's missed time with back spasms), that could play a role in these next three games.
Twitter Trivia: Monday, we posted the question at (@msimonespn): Name the only pitcher to accumulate 20 career wins with both the Mets and the Tigers.
The teams have shared some pretty good pitchers, though not necessarily at the height of their careers. But the answer is not Mickey Lolich, Frank Tanana, Kenny Rogers, or Yankee-killer Frank Lary. It's Dave Mlicki, who won 24 games for the Mets from 1995 to 1998 and another 24 for the Tigers from 1999 to 2001. Walt Terrell (coincidentally another Tiger who once lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning) came close, but mustered only 19 Mets wins.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn or e-mail him at email@example.com.