There was an interesting tidbit in Anthony DiComo’s recent mailbag over at MLB.com. When asked who would be the Opening Day starter should Johan Santana not be healthy enough to make the start, DiComo wrote:
“Unlike last year, when Collins named his Opening Day starter in the dead of winter, the manager has been tight-lipped on that issue this year—and for good reason. No one knows exactly how ready Santana will be come Opening Day.
Collins has said on multiple occasions that he believes Santana is a true ace, hinting that if the left-hander is healthy, he will receive the Opening Day nod. And that makes sense. But if Santana is anything less than 100 percent come April, then I suspect you’re right: Dickey will indeed earn the assignment. Coming off a better and more consistent year than any other Mets pitcher, Dickey would really be the only choice at that point. He was the clear leader of this staff in Santana’s absence, and its best pitcher to boot.”
This certainly makes sense. Dickey’s ERA+ was 113 last year; no other starter topped 84. Dickey was also the only Met to surpass 200 innings pitched. There’s an argument to be made that Dickey has earned the Opening Day nod regardless- let Santana work his way back without carrying the extra baggage of the ace label.
After all, the Mets certainly didn’t choose the correct Opening Day starter last year. Inexplicably, Mike Pelfrey got the nod over Dickey. In 2010, Dickey edged Pelfrey in ERA+, 138 to 107. Pelfrey edged Dickey in innings pitched, 204 to 174 1/3, but did so in seven extra starts- Dickey pitched deep into games more consistently. And peripheral stats suggested that Dickey was a far better bet to repeat his production in 2011, as he largely did.
The Mets, however, wanted Mike Pelfrey to be an ace. He is tall, he throws hard, and they drafted him high. So he got the start, and proceeded to disappoint fans who shouldn’t have been pushed into thinking he was an ace.
I fear the same thing could happen with Santana, who returns from complicated shoulder surgery. It may be moot if he isn’t ready to go, but wouldn’t it make more sense to put him in the rotation with the idea that he can heal on his own timetable, rather than expecting him to be an ace the moment he is healthy enough to take the mound.
Here’s hoping the Mets get it right this year.