Steady. Consistent. Reliable. Tried-and-true. Oh, to be able to use those words when describing Mike Pelfrey, A.J. Burnett, Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Jacobs. But alas, that is not the case. These are four local guys whose fans can often be heard saying about them, "Is the good (insert name) or the bad (insert name) going to show up today?" Oliver Perez used to fall under this category and is in the New York Hall of Fame of the Good/Bad conundrum, but "Good Ollie" just doesn't exist anymore. "Bad Ollie" has completely taken over and killed his benign twin. Eli Manning sort of fit the mold his first few years, but a Super Bowl MVP and Pro Bowl appearance have quelled those thoughts from years gone by. And players coming off their rookie season, such as Mark Sanchez, don't qualify yet. Nor do the Vernon Gholstons, who were supposed to be good but we're still waiting.
These four local question marks don't necessarily have common circumstances surrounding them. Burnett's older, Jacobs can use injuries as an excuse, but Pelfrey and Dubinsky are in the same boat - old enough to where we've seen both success and failure, and the jury's still out on them. After appearing in 19 games in 2006 and '07, Pelfrey has been a mainstay in the Mets' rotation the last three seasons. A first-round draft pick, the organization was (and still is) hoping he would turn into a No. 1 starter. Two seasons ago, after starting the year poorly, he dominated lineups over a two-month stretch, but then fell back to form as an inconsistent question mark, but finished with a 13-11 mark, and a 3.72 ERA. Last year, he was just a flat-out mess. Unconfident, with balks, hand-licking and mound-lapping galore, he looked like a man in need of some help. But the first half of 2010 was a revelation. He worked quickly, pounded the strike zone and glowed with a new confidence that he never had before. But then, as fast as you can say Jeff D'Amico, he fell apart again. And he's been up-and-down ever since. Who is the real Mike Pelfrey? The April/May/June 2010 version? The July disaster? We just don't know. His last two starts pretty much say it all: three and 2/3 innings, six runs, three walks followed by seven and 1/3 innings, two runs, no walks. Next year, he could pitch like a fifth starter, an innings-eating middle rotation guy or an ace. Take your pick.
A.J. Burnett is an older version of Pelfrey (or is Pelfrey a younger version of Burnett?). Granted he's had more success than his Met counterpart and has been a two-time World Series winner, but whenever he takes the mound you never know if he'll let in 10 runs or pitch a no-hitter (or punch a locker-room door). He has the stuff, and the experience, but there's a disconnect between his brain and his arm. This is his 12th season, and we're still looking for the lightbulb to go on in his head. He's only won more than 13 games once in his career (18 in 2008), which should be surprising, but with his up-and-down nature it's more sad and regrettable than anything. At 33 years old, Burnett might just be what he's always been - an infuriatingly inconsistent pitcher.
New York Ranger Brandon Dubinsky hustles, scores, battles in the corners and does all the little things. Sometimes. He came up to the NHL around the same time as Ryan Callahan and he seemed like a more talented version of his teammate, but Callahan's the one who's been more consistent. A quick look at Dubinsky's stats through three full seasons can be deceiving. He's tallied 40, 41 and 44 points. Seems consistent. And even slightly improving with each season. He notched a career high in goals last season (20) while missing 13 games to boot. But Dubinsky can go weeks without scoring and occasionally spends games in the witness protection program. Sam Rosen may go a week without mentioning his name. Unless it's to say John Tortorella's stuck him at the end of the bench for a full period. But then, bam, there he is again, scoring, hustling and playing like the fan favorite we all want him to be. Good Brandon and Bad Brandon. But he's still awfully young, and may just be taking a little time to put it all together.
Football's a different animal than the other sports. The longevity of a running back is a crapshoot. Brandon Jacobs is 28 years old, and it's possible that he's already on the downswing of his career. His bruising running style may have taken too big of a toll on him. After spending his first two seasons backing up Tiki Barber, he took over the starting role in the Giants' Super Bowl-winning year of 2007, and gained 1,009 yards in only 11 games. Staying on the field was his biggest challenge. He barreled over linebackers, safeties and anyone else in his way for 1,089 yards the next year. But last season, he was just a shadow of his former self. Maybe it was all due to a knee injury. But Good Brandon/Bad Brandon was more like a play-to-play situation than a game-to-game one like the Pelfreys and Burnetts. He would gain a total of six yards on seven carries as we wonder what happened to the big guy. But then he would break through the line, rumble over a cornerback and ramble for 22 yards, and we would say, "There he is. Now that's Brandon Jacobs." But then, poof, that would be it. Maybe 19 more yards on 12 carries. And we're back to "What happened to him?" He was down from five yards a carry in '07 and '08 to 3.7 last year. And now he's lost his starting role to Ahmad Bradshaw, though he should get plenty of carries. But do we know which Jacobs will be there this season?
They're good, they're bad, they're inconsistent. Mike Pelfrey, A.J. Burnett, Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Jacobs are the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydes of New York. What will they ultimately become? We just don't know.