For a guy who was waived twice following the 2011 season, Jeremy Hefner has been quite a productive pitcher in 2012 for the Mets. Sunday, Hefner pitched into the ninth inning and ended up with a no-decision in a game where he pitched well enough to win. His final line was 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB and 7 Ks.
The pessimists can claim that Hefner did that against the Astros, a team that trots out a lineup as bad as the one that the Mets do. And they would be right. But you can only pitch against the team that are scheduled when your turn comes around and in the long run, these things should even out. In his last start, Hefner squared off against the first-place Nationals.
For the season, Hefner has tossed 69.2 innings and has a 4.65 ERA. That’s the sixth-most innings on the staff, which is not bad for a guy who made nine starts in Triple-A and who has 12 relief appearances in the majors this year.
Plus, the ERA is a bit misleading. The National League as a whole has a 3.97 ERA and its starters check in with a 4.05 mark. But Hefner has pitched in some tough luck this season. A slightly elevated BABIP and a slightly depressed strand rate have hurt Hefner in 2012. His xFIP checks in at 4.07 or just slightly (three percent) above league average.
For the price of a waiver claim, the Mets have received essentially league average production from Hefner. If only he was a LF instead of a pitcher.
The question becomes: What happens to Hefner going forward? The Mets seem well-set in SP. Clearly he’s behind Dickey, Gee, Harvey, Niese and Santana in the bid for a slot in the rotation for 2013. Behind him are McHugh and Wheeler in Triple-A who both likely have higher upside. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Mets re-sign Mike Pelfrey, much like they did this past offseason with Chris Young. And while Chris Schwinden did not impress this year in New York, he does have a 2.59 ERA in 100.2 IP in Triple-A and cannot be easily dismissed as competition.
Perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to carry Hefner as a traditional long man out of the bullpen. Yet somehow he would seem under-utilized in that role. MLB clubs have given 155 starts to 11 pitchers who carry an xFIP over 5.00 this season. And it’s much worse if you go by ERA.
Still Hefner falls into that gray area where he would likely be an upgrade in the rotation for several teams yet not many clubs are walking around thinking, “If only we had Hefner in our rotation, things would be a lot better.”
So, barring a trade of another Mets SP, Hefner is likely to open 2013 in the Mets’ pen. And with the health concerns around Gee and Santana in particular and pitchers in general, that’s a nice thing for the Mets to have.
Overall I’m glad the Mets went to a six-man rotation to give more starts to Hefner here in 2012. I look forward to see what he does in his start next week, which likely will happen sometime in the three-game series against the Marlins. And with around five starts remaining in the year, it’s not impossible Hefner will do enough down the stretch to make him interesting enough to another club in the offseason.