Thursday, July 11, 2013

The complete turnaround of Jeremy Hefner

For most of last year and for the first two months of this season, the only thing Jeremy Hefner had in common with that famous dude with the same last name was that both took a lot of early showers. This season, not only did Hefner lose his first five decisions, but the Mets lost the game in all ten of his first ten appearances. That was not good. In fact, the Mets lost twelve of Hefner's first thirteen appearances. But Hefner actually started pitching better on May 24 against the Braves and then beat the Yankees for his first win of the season. Now, the Mets have won five of his last five starts with Hefner getting the win in three of them. Jeremy Hefner has turned it around.

When you are pitching in a situation like Jeremy Hefner is with the Mets, the one thing it affords is a chance to get straightened out. If Hefner was pitching for a winning club, he might have been pulled from the rotation and even from a Major League roster. After nine starts, the man did have an ERA of 5.00. But Hefner has benefited from the Mets' situation and was able to keep getting the ball every five days and that has paid off handsomely for him.

The big question is this: Are his last five starts for real? Are we finally seeing the real Jeremy Hefner, or is he just having a lucky stretch after a really bad stretch? Let's take a look.

The Good News:

Hefner pitched 29 innings in April, 28 in May and 29 in June. In April, Hefner walked eleven batters. In May, that went down to nine. In June, that went down again to five. Thus, his strikeout to walk ratio in the three months has a nice progression: 1.82, 2.44, 4.60 and that figure is 4.67 in July. Due to more contact, his hit rate went up all three months, but has come down nicely in July.

Unlike BABIP and other indicators, you cannot fake strikeout to walk ratios.

But does Hefner's stuff look good enough to continue his success? Consider that his slider is rated by Fangraphs as the fourth best in all of baseball. Only Darvish, Masterson and Bumgarner's rate higher. That is pretty nice company. Hefner's curve ranks seventh in all of baseball with guys like Strasburg, Burnett, Leake, Kershaw and Wainwright ahead of him. Again, that is excellent company.

With that kind of success on his breaking stuff, fastball command no doubt makes a big difference in his success. It would be safe to say that early in the season, it was not there. But in the last month and a half, he has been able to get ahead in the count more and then use his terrific breaking pitches to his benefit.

The only doubt that enters the mind is that his last five appearances have been against teams like the Cubs, the Brewers, the Phillies, the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. It was quite impressive what he did at Coors Field, so you cannot take that away from him. But all five of those teams have struggled in the last month. Will Hefner's success continue when the Mets play the best teams again?

I think it will. His stuff is there. He is learning how to get ahead in the count and use his off-speed pitches effectively. Hefner is throwing more strikes, getting less walks and though his homer rate is high, in the last two starts, the one he allowed in each of those starts was a solo homer. 

Hefner also has an improved strand rate this season over last season. Part of that is luck, of course, but another part of it is learning how to stay in the moment and get the outs you need to get out of situations. Jeremy Hefner has been afforded the chance to learn how to perform his craft at the Major League level and he appears to be doing just that.

The late emergence of Jeremy Hefner has to be exciting for Mets fans and for his team's brain-trust. His complete turnaround in the last month and a half seems to show that the Mets have built three-fifths of a great rotation with Harvey, Wheeler and Hefner and Gee is only 27 and is coming around nicely too. If four of your five starters give your team a chance to win every time out, the Mets can be on their way back to respectability.

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