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February 10, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Metropolitan Makeover

by Jay Jaffe

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NEW YORK METS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

With last week's signing of Oliver Perez, the Mets' 2009 pitching staff is largely in place. After losing out on playoff spots on the final day of each of the past two seasons, the question is whether general manager Omar Minaya's winter work will be enough to avert a similarly agonizing fate this year.

Certainly, Minaya tackled the club's primary shortcoming head on. The 2008 Mets' bullpen finished 14th in the league in Reliever Expected Wins Added (WXRL), and would have ranked among the 10 worst of any playoff-bound team since 1988 had they made the postseason. To correct this, Minaya signed free agent Francisco Rodriguez, fresh off a record 62-save season with the Angels, and traded for Mariners closer J.J. Putz to set him up, and to back him up in case of injury-hardly an overreaction given last year's collapse once Billy Wagner went down. That trade included addition by subtraction via the departure of ineffective set-up man Aaron Heilman, while free agency and further dealings rid them of high-profile arsonists Luis Ayala and Scott Schoeneweis.

As important as those moves may be, focusing solely on the bullpen puts the cart before the horse. To take full advantage of Rodriguez and Putz, the Mets need leads to protect. Our PECOTA projections suggest they'll have plenty. Though we lack a crystal ball to foretell the arc of the 2009 season, the Mets currently project as the NL East frontrunners according to our PECOTA-baseddepth charts, which are based on players' weighted mean forecasts and adjustments for their share of playing time. Our initial projection, which will be revised to account for information regarding job competitions and injuries (as well as the perhaps inevitabletechnical glitches), pegs the Mets at 93 wins, five more than either the Phillies or Braves.

Despite failing to upgrade at the outfield corners, the Mets project to score 833 runs, third in the NL, and to allow 713 runs, the league's lowest total. That latter figure isn't actually all that low; at 4.4 per game, it's a ringer for the 715 runs the club allowed last year, sixth in the league. The seemingly unimpressive per-game rate includes a heavy amount of regression to the mean and incorporates multiple years of data. The scoring levels foreseen by PECOTA are seven percent higher than last year's NL, closer to 2006-2007 levels (about 4.8 runs per game). Still, their relative standing counts as good news for Mets fans.

Minaya entered the offseason with just three starters under contract: Johan Santana, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey. Santana went 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA and 206 strikeouts last year, numbers that propelled the two-time AL Cy Young award winner to a third-place finish in his first NL vote. Maine pitched reasonably well (10-8, 4.18 ERA and 122 strikeouts), but a bone spur in his shoulder limited him to just six second-half starts and required off-season surgery. Pelfrey established himself as a viable starter by going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA after getting the stuffing knocked out of him in 2007.

With the re-signing of Perez (10-7 with a 4.22 ERA and 180 strikeouts), the front four is thus unchanged, and a stronger unit than the one they left the gate with last year, given that Pelfrey is replacing Pedro Martinez, whose injuries limited him to just 20 starts and an ugly 5.61 ERA. Indeed, Martinez's departure should liberate an organization that spent the past three years overestimating his capabilities and his durability; he averaged 16 starts and a 4.73 ERA in that span. Lacking in depth, the 2008 club called upon globetrotting journeymen like Nelson Figueroa and Brandon Knight to patch their rotation when Martinez or Maine were sidelined.

Minaya has improved that depth with fifth-starter options that include journeymen Tim Redding and Freddy Garcia, and homegrown prospect Jon Niese. Redding took the ball every fifth day for the Nationals last year, putting up a 4.95 ERA in 33 starts, while Garcia showed promise in a three-start audition with Detroit after more than a year lost recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff. Niese made three starts last September for the Mets, but with less than 40 innings of Triple-A experience, the 2005 seventh-round pick could use more minor league seasoning. Though a few starts remain unaccounted for, here is the rotation's initial prognosis:


Pitcher    GS    IP    ERA   VORP
Santana    30   210   3.14   50.6
Maine      26   145   4.16   20.8
Perez      29   180   4.26   21.0
Pelfrey    26   145   4.39   13.6
Garcia     15    75   4.62    8.3
Redding    23   120   4.83    7.2
Niese       7    35   5.09    0.6
Total     156   910   4.14  122.1

Accounting for scoring inflation, that's the equivalent of a 3.92 ERA last year, which would have ranked fourth among starters, and which is essentially on par with their warts-and-all showing of 3.98. Note the effect of regression upon Santana, who has bettered a 3.14 ERA five times in six years as a starter, and that neither Maine nor Pelfrey are projected for a full complement of innings. PECOTA's initial forecast cautiously called for just 107 frames from the former because of last year's dip in playing time, and was wary of Pelfrey's 200-inning workload as a 24-year-old-48 more than he threw in 2007, including those in the minors. The Verducci Effect suggests that he'll have trouble repeating that success, as do his peripherals, but the more innings either throws, the more this unit will improve relative to that projection. As for the bullpen:


Pitcher               IP    ERA   VORP
Francisco Rodriguez   65   2.74   20.7
J.J. Putz             60   2.63   19.6
Sean Green            60   3.75   10.5
Pedro Feliciano       50   3.63    9.6
Nelson Figueroa       70   5.10    1.8
Brian Stokes          45   5.09    0.8
Duaner Sanchez        45   4.02    6.7
Bobby Parnell         45   5.76  - 2.6
Carlos Muniz          30   4.49    3.3
Total                470   4.05   70.4

Again accounting for inflation, that 4.05 ERA is the equivalent of a 3.84 ERA in 2008 terms, which would have ranked fourth-a dramatic improvement over the actual unit's 4.27, which ranked 11th. The change is most visible at the top, where the marquee newcomers are forecast to combine for 40.3 VORP; last year's top duo (Wagner and Schoeneweis) combined for just 24.3. Figueroa's innings estimate looks high, and Sanchez's low, but even reversing the two pitchers' totals only amounts to a few runs. The bottom line is a much better unit than the one that limped home last year.

Things may still change as the spring unfolds, both with regards to the staff and our PECOTA tweaks, but this initial reckoning suggests that the Mets are in good shape. Added rotation depth and a significantly improved back of the bullpen should help avoid the late-game and late-season agony of recent years.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

bflaff

Ha Ha. PECOTA loves the Mets? Phils will be fighting for third? That sounds strangely familiar...

I'm wondering if BP has an opinion about how CitiField will play, since I've seen people argue that it will play like the Grand Canyon and suppress offense to a Petco-like extreme.

Feb 10, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

At 88 wins the Phils would presumably be fighting for second in the East and the NL Wild Card. Unless they weren't fighting very hard, of course. It should be pointed out that their current projection doesn't include Jamie Moyer because PECOTAs for 75-year-old pitchers are apparently hard to come by. On the other hand, it still credits Chase Utley with about 650 PA, which is pretty optimistic given his offseason hip surgery. Remember, though, that it takes a lot of career years to win a championship, which is why teams don't repeat very often. Assuming that just because everything jelled for last year's winners (and here I mean in general, not just the Phils) means it will do so again is a surefire way to be proven wrong a good portion of the time.

Regarding Cit, as discussed in the comments thread here (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8448), the field is expected to be pitcher-friendly but pretty neutral for handedness, depressing offense by about three percent from either side. That's based on a model by Nate Silver which incorporates field dimensions, altitude and average temperature, and determines left- and right-handed component park foactors which are presumably fed into a run-estimation calculation.

Of course we won't really get a full read on the park's effects until we get a few years of data, under our belts, but that seems like a reasonable first guess.

Feb 10, 2009 11:42 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Regarding Moyer's absence, as Clay Davenport (who's managing the depth charts) points out via Unfiltered (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/index.php?type=1&p=1171#10161) the absence of a player's projection in the readout doesn't mean the player's forecast isn't included in the team totals.

Feb 10, 2009 12:23 PM
 
bflaff

Cheers, Jay. I figured Moyer was absent for that reason.

I like the annual man vs. machine prediction battle between Jimmy Rollins and PECOTA, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes this year.

Feb 10, 2009 12:51 PM
rating: 1
 
smitty

I'm not sure the Phils had all that many career years last season. Lidge for sure. Durbin I guess but he wasn't THAT good. Anyone else?

Howard was off his norm. Rollins too. Utley was battling the hip thing most of the season. Myers got sent to the minors for a time. Blanton has been better. Hamels didn't seem to be pitching over his head. Madson's gains last year looked real as his velocity incresed significantly. Victorino and Werth played within their capabilities in my view while Jenkins had his worst year ever most likely.

The Phils ran Eaton and his horridness out there for 19 starts and Kendrick was getting his head kicked in for most of the second half. There's a decent chance the Phils get better starting pitching this season. Ancient Jamie Moyer might be the key there.

I understand the point regarding championship teams riding career years to glory. The White Sox did so with many of their pitchers a few years ago. A team close to all Philadephian's hearts -- the '93 squad rode many career years to a superb NL championship season.

But I don't see last year's world champs really riding a bunch of career seasons to the Big Broad Street Parade.

Also, right now the Phils seem to be indicating that Utley will be ready for opening day. That would be pretty big. If Ibanez can keep his late career hitting spree going for another year, the Phils look to be sitting fairly pretty right now. Time will tell of course.

Feb 10, 2009 14:36 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Re: starting pitching, you're right in that there's room for improvement (their 4.23 ERA was seventh) but it sounds as though you're expecting a breakout season from 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, who threw 196 innings at a 3.71 ERA clip (about 0.6 below his FIP) and another monster year from Hamels, who threw 227 innings plus another 35 in the playoffs. That's a career year.

Those two stick out, as do Lidge and Madson - the latter threw 82.2 innings in the regular season plus another 12 in the post. Back-to-back 80-inning seasons from a reliever is sadly rather rare these days.

Note that the projections do figure on a pretty full season of work from Utley (656 PA) and a rebound from Howard as far as his rate stats are concerned.

Feb 10, 2009 15:52 PM
 
smitty

I'm just saying those years weren't career years, as defined as a year that is not in context with the rest of a guy's career. Moyer has had many season's as good as last year. I don't think last year will be Hamel's best -- it could be but he certainly looks like a stud right now. Madson threw 77; 87 and 134 innings in 2004-2006. He's always been a workhorse. Further, his 94-97 MPH fastball that he unveiled last year isn't going away any time soon I don't think.

I really don't think the Phils had all that many career years out of their main guys and, in fact, several guys were below their norm. Carlos Ruiz is another guy who had a season that was far from a career year and who should improve from last season.

Right now, I see the Phils and the Mets as very close with the Phils probably having a slight edge.

Feb 10, 2009 18:21 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Sorry if it wasn't clear from the previous comment - I agree with you in the grand scheme. Most of those key players' years weren't tremendously out of context, and you may be right that Hamels has better years ahead of him (as a fan of good baseball, I certainly hope so). What I was trying to point out was that his value and that of Moyer are unlikely to equal what they did last year; totaling 425 high-quality innings and 95 VORP between them is a very tall order, and even if they improve elsewhere in the rotation, some regression is probably inevitable.

Feb 10, 2009 18:53 PM
 
smitty

Gotcha. Here's hoping (from an Phils' Phan perspective) that Myers can put in a full season of good pitching; Blanton has one of his good years and Happ (or someone holds down the 5th spot in good order. The Phils had few pitching injuries last season so we really need another good season in that respect too. Can't wait 'til it all starts and thanks for a great article and informative replies.

Feb 11, 2009 00:06 AM
rating: 0
 
coolpapabell

You know I have read that Mets officials feel that Citi field might play like a hiters park. Last season they took David Wright in there for BP and noticed that the ball was leaving the yard easier than at Shea. This of course was one BP session.
Additionally, some have been predicting that the wind might aide fly balls. Yes, this is far from standing on firm footing but there were several reports citing how some Mets officials favored Lowe over Oliver Perez for fear of Perez fly ball tendencies and how that could hurt him in Citi field.

Feb 11, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

one way the term 'career year' might be applied is the rates of the bullpen pitching, no? weren't their best guys pitching at rates that defied their career norms?

Feb 11, 2009 14:17 PM
rating: 0
 
smitty

I don't think so. Romero was pretty Romero like. Madson added a lot of giddyup to his fastball last season but he has been a good reliever for years now. I don't think he'll lose the MPH off his fastball. They only had Eyre for a short time but he pitched like Scott Eyre for the team -- not really out of the ordinary. Even Durbin, who was good, had been pretty good as a reliever prior to last season. Gordon was hurt and bad pretty much. Seanez was pretty much normal Seanez.

The big thing with the bullpen was they suffered very few injuries. That and Lidge was unbelievable.

Another thing that might help the Phils cause is they have some guys like Happ, Carrasco, Donald and Marson that look capable of helping the team this year at some point. Last year they really didn't get much help at all from the farm (well, Happ made some good starts).

Feb 11, 2009 16:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

I meant rates as in flyball/homerun, for instance. I remember Joe (or someone) did a piece on it midway/two thirds through.

...aaaand after a quick search: http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=7677

That was through June; I'd be curious to see how any regression might've contributed to their 2nd half semi-swoon. But the first two months of apparent (really) good luck gave them a nice start.

Feb 12, 2009 13:25 PM
rating: 0
 
smitty

I don't know. I think they finished the season as a pretty good bullpen. They did have a quick start. But they didn't regress all that much. The main guys -- Lidge/Madson/Romero/Durbin/Condrey allowed 13 1st half homers and 11 second half homers. Unfortunately, the first half was 96 games and the second only 66 at the BR page that I looked at. Maybe someone can find better data somewhere. Still, an increase but not a huge increase in HR allowed.

Further, Lidge got Hurdled at the All Star game and struggled some in July as a result. He gave up his two homers while recovering from the 53 times he warmed up that night. He was nails again by the end of the season and during the playoffs.

Perhaps the Phils' bullpen wasn't the best in baseball by the end of the year as Joe predicted. But they were still pretty durn good. Ask the Mets, Brewers, Dodgers and Rays.

Still, you make a good point. Expecting Lidge to do as well as he did last season might be a bit much. But the Phils' bullpen looks to me to have several guys who have been mostly good throughout their careers.

Feb 12, 2009 15:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

Oh they were definitely good; a little too good. I thought Joe was saying they would almost certainly regress because those rates were unsustainable and flukey (but a fluke that could certainly last all season, which it appeared to do). Phils have a fine pen, but I wouldn't expect anyone to repeat last year. It looks like the wind was blowing their way.

Feb 13, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 0
 
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