Jeremy Hefner’s overall numbers look poor this year (0-3, 4.34 ERA) but he’s pitched much better than his record indicates. He’s made five starts – and one horrid relief appearance – and three of them he’s pitched well enough to win. All three of those outings were Quality Starts and in them he threw 21 IP and allowed 4 ER.
The good news for Hefner is that two of his three strong starts have come in his last two appearances. The bad news is that while he’s heating up – so is top prospect Zack Wheeler down in Triple-A. It’s unlikely that the Mets would call up Wheeler before the end of this month, yet it’s probable a promotion will be following soon after, should Wheeler continue to pitch well.
Meanwhile, Hefner was not supposed to be part of the starting rotation at the beginning of the year and it’s likely that he’ll be the first one removed from the rotation unless he separates himself from the others over his next few starts. So, it’s not good enough to just have a 60% QS percentage – he’s going to have to break into the win column if he wants to remain as a starter.
So, what’s been the problem for Hefner in 2013? He gave up a solo homer in six innings in his first start this year but came out with a loss. His next start he allowed 2 HR in 3 IP in Philadelphia and a trend was born. Because of the weather, combined with the frequent off days of the early April schedule, Hefner went eight days before his next appearance, this one a one-inning stint out of the pen in Colorado, where he allowed two more homers.
Two days later, Hefner started against the Nationals and surrendered two more home runs. That brought his season total to seven homers in four games, covering 14 innings. We know that in the long haul for most pitchers, home runs are a direct result over how many fly balls you surrender. A typical HR/FB ratio is in the 10-11 percent range. In this brief sample, Hefner allowed 7 HR on 20 fly balls.
We would have expected Hefner to allow two homers in this span.
However, in his next two games, opposing batters hit 12 fly balls and had zero home runs. This brings his season total to 32 fly balls and seven homers. That’s still a 21.9 HR/FB ratio – about double what we would expect. But with the home runs in check in his last two outings, Hefner allowed just 3 ER in his last 15 IP yet came away with an 0-1 record.
Four of the homers allowed came in Philadelphia and Colorado, traditionally two of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. Add in the weather and the erratic usage issues and the number of homers allowed seems understandable, if not quite forgivable.
But it’s hard not to see the corollary. In his three good starts, Hefner allowed 1 HR in 21 IP. In his three poor outings, he surrendered 6 HR in 8 IP.
Of course we also have to look at his opponents in these games. In two of his three good starts, Hefner went up against the Marlins and the other good outing came against the Dodgers, who currently sit with a 13-19 record, hardly what they expected given their payroll obligations.
Even if Hefner only pitches well against the poor teams in the league, there’s a lot of value to be gained from a fifth starter dominating half the teams in the league. Hefner goes up against an AL foe Wednesday night, when he squares off against the 13-18 White Sox. Last night, Matt Harvey made Chicago look like an A-ball league club, just missing a perfect game when he allowed an infield single.
No one belittled Harvey’s tremendous outing by pointing out that it came against a sub-.500 team. If Hefner makes it three straight strong starts, it would probably be best to extend him the same courtesy. Regardless, it would certainly help his case to remain in the rotation going forward if he would crack into the win column.
And keeping the ball in the park will probably go a long way for Hefner in that end.