Amid the hoopla of New York Mets phenom Matt Harvey being tabbed to start Tuesday’s All-Star Game for the National League at Citi Field, rotation mate Jeremy Hefner – believe it or not – has been the Mets’ best starter since June.
Entering the season, Hefner was considered nothing more than an afterthought for a spot in the team’s starting rotation. After two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana had season-ending surgery April 2 to repair to torn left shoulder capsule, Hefner was thrust into the rotation – and the results were disastrous. In mid-May, Hefner was 0-5 with a 5.00 ERA, and he didn’t record his first win until May 29 against the Yankees.
Since then, however, Hefner has had a coming-out party of sorts. Hefner, 27, posted a 1.80 ERA in five starts in June, more than a half-run better than Harvey’s 2.31 ERA for the month. Since June 4, Hefner has complied a 3-1 record with a 1.76 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and .216 opponents’ batting average in eight starts. In fact, no starting pitcher in Major League Baseball – not Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez, has a lower ERA over that span.
The ERA and WHIP categories are two of the best ways to measure a pitcher’s performance, if not the best, and it’s apparent that Hefner is no Harvey. Then again, who is? No one. But there are a number of positive signs Hefner has shown that indicate he can be a productive pitcher going forward.
After scattering four hits and allowing just one run over seven innings during the Mets’ 9-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks July 2, Hefner credited pitching coach Dan Warthen for a mechanical adjustment that he thinks is making it more difficult for batters to pick up his pitches.
“Really, that's all that's changed, is a little bit of a mechanical adjustment," Hefner said, as reported by Kieran Darcy of ESPNNewYork.com. "And I think it's just created a little deception, and it's working for me right now."
Hefner may be on to something. The adjustments he’s made this season have also led to a significant increase in his fastball velocity. Hefner, who previously threw his four-seam fastball between 89-90 mph, averaged better than 92 mph with his four-seamer in June, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
Thanks in part to that, his strikeout rate has increased from 6.0 per nine innings last season to 6.8 this season. For a pitcher who is only walking 2.3 batters per nine innings, Hefner is getting more than his fair share of swings and misses. This won’t make him a top-of-the-rotation hurler, but it should make him a viable middle-of-the-rotation starter.
With two budding stars already in the big league rotation (Harvey and Zack Wheeler), coupled with several promising pitching prospects in the minor leagues – including Rafael Monteroand Noah Syndergaard – the Mets don’t need Hefner to take on the burden of being one of the franchise’s top three starters. They just need him to give them a chance to win every fifth day, and that’s all the Mets can really ask for from their fifth starter.
For his entire career, Hefner has been overlooked. After being waived twice following the 2011 season, he has already surpassed any expectations the Mets could have had for such a pickup. Now, he could be counted on to play a bigger role than anyone could have anticipated behind both Harvey and Wheeler
Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore, and true Mets fan.