The Mets signed Greg Burke on 11/7/12. He is a 30 year old righthander with only one season of MLB experience to his credit – 48 games for the 2009 San Diego Padres.
But wait…He’s a sidearmer! He pitched at AA/AAA for the Baltimore Orioles last year and saved 17 games. He posted a 1.53 ERA. He demonstrated excellent command with a 2.09 BB/9.
Who does that sound like? Terry Leach.
Leach had only amassed 42 major league innings pitched by the age of 30. Leach didn’t really become a full-time major leaguer until 1987 when at age 33 he went 11-1 in 44 games for the Mets.
Both Leach and Burke had to reinvent their pitching motions: Leach because of injuries and Burke because he wasn’t effective enough using a regular motion.
Burke is now on the Mets’ 40-man roster. He is maintaining his dependability. After 15 innings in Winter Ball (the Mexican Pacific League) he is at a 1.15 ERA with 15 Ks and 0 BB.
Can Burke replicate Leach’s 1987 career-season? Well that’s a tall order. In 1987, the Mets were coming off the World Series Championship and still fielded the majority of those championship players. In 1987, Leach threw over 131 innings in relief and as a spot starter.
Heading into 2013, the Mets aren’t expected to match the offensive production of that 1987 squad and their starting pitching opens with its fair share of question marks. As of right now, the starting five are: Santana, Marcum, Gee, Niese, and Wheeler. Except for Wheeler, all these players have had health questions and Wheeler was shut down in September due to the organization’s inning limit. Will there be some chances for spot starts? If there is, then that’s where Burke could be the new Leach. At age 30, the Mets will not be restricting his pitch counts.
Let’s compare the 1985 MLB performance of Leach (when he was 31) against Burke’s 2012 minor (AA/AAA) pitching performance (when he turned 30 and had decided to become a sidearmer full time):
1985 was Leach’s third season pitching at the MLB season. In 1985, he appeared in 22 games; had a 2.91 ERA, threw 55.2 innings, had a 2:14 K/BB ratio (30:14), a WHIP of 1.114, logged four starts and finished four games. He ended up with a 3-4 record.
Last year, Burke (split between AA/AAA) appeared in 44 games; had a 1.53 ERA, threw 64.2 innings, had a 3.33 K/BB ratio (50:15), a WHIP of 0.943, and finished 28 games. He ended up with 3-1 record.
Conclusion: Heading into 2013, the Mets have question marks in their starting rotation and are working to improve their bullpen. Burke (like Leach) can bolster the bullpen and provide the Mets with a viable candidate to spot start. If he performs like Leach did in 1985, we might have a hidden gem as the Mets’ future take shape.