Replacements for Hisanori Takahashi

Note: this is a post written by MetsToday sabermetric guru Matt Himelfarb

In seven starts, here are Hisanori Takahashi’s numbers to date:

38.1 IP
15.85% K rate
7.32% BB rate
1.31 HR/9
8.62% HR/FB
5.16 FIP

Those numbers are unworthy of a spot in the rotation, even for a fifth starter. The long-ball has been Takahashi’s undoing, but that is what happens when you have a 38% GB rate. At the very least, I would prefer to see a back-end starter with mediocre peripherals eat some innings, but Takahashi is a five-six inning pitcher at this point.

I used to be wholeheartedly against dealing for the Kevin Millwoods and Fausto Carmonas of the world. Given Takahashi’s initial success, I thought it would be a linear move at the best.

It has now become imperative, however, that the Mets replace Takahashi. Johan Santana is a major question mark. Mike Pelfrey has developed into a very good pitcher, but he is not a sub-3-ERA. pitcher, so he is due for some major regression. R.A. Dickey is, well, the man, and Jon Niese’s current performance is not out of line with what is expected of him, but it is not enough. For a team with playoff aspirations, Takahashi’s spot in the rotation is the most logical point for improvement. His stuff and poise suggests he can be a better pitcher,and 38 innings is a small sample size. But we are not talking about some young stud with eye toward the future. Takahashi does not have enough upside to justify retaining a spot in the rotation when better alternatives exist.

By replacing him, the Mets also simultaneously upgrade their bullpen; Takahashi can pitch to both righties and lefties and was absolutely filthy earlier in the year. Not to mention he adds depth to the rotation.

Let’s look at some of the outside options for the Mets:

Kevin Millwood: There is a lot to like about Millwood. Despite an unattractive 5.22 era. right now, Millwood has a 4.25 xFIP. He is posting very good peripherals (18% K rate 6.9% BB rate). His 1.68 HR/9 rate should regress significantly, given his career rate is .98.That xFIP goes down even further when you consider A) A move to Citi Field will further suppress his home run rate B) About a .10-.15 difference in era. between the AL and NL and C) Getting away from the AL East. Not to mention, he is a workhorse when healthy.

ZIPS only projects a 5.09 era. and 4.78 FIP going forward, though, largely because Millwood’s strikeout and walks numbers are expected to decline as the season wears on. In particular, he is striking out over 7 batters per nine innings- his highest rate since 2004. ZIPS projects he will strikeout less than six per nine going forward.

It is difficult to say what the Mets will get out of Millwood, but he is undoubtedly worth taking a flier on. Even in the worst case scenario, he is probably a slight improvement over Takahashi, and has some promising upside.

Fausto Carmona: Carmona’s xFIP’s with the Indians from 2008-2009 were 5.13 and 4.98 respectively. This year, he has a 3.64 era. and 4.49 FIP, due to improved command. Carmona’s strikeout (12.9%) and walk (8.2%) rate is not all that impressive, but he makes up for it with a 58% GB rate. In other words, he is somewhat like Mike Pelfrey before this year.

Carmona’s BABIP should go up to some extent, so ZIPS projects a 4.85 era. going forward. Like Milwood, going from the AL to the NL should help a bit, but we do not know if Carmona can maintain his newfound command. He is due $6.1 million next year, which, while reasonable, is no bargain either.

Of the two, I would probably prefer Millwood, who should also cost less.

Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee: The Mets have not been connected to Oswalt, mostly because of financial concerns. Oswalt is due the remainder of his $15 million this year, plus $16M in 2011 and a $16M club option in 2012 ($2M buyout).

If the Mets are, in fact, willing to add $15 million dollar pitcher, that would put their 2011 payroll at around $150 million. The Mets reluctance regarding Oswalt has less to do with money itself and more as to whether they think Oswalt in particular is worth the financial commitment.

Needless to say, Lee has been about twice as valuable as Oswalt over the last several years. Oswalt is a valuable pitcher, no doubt. He has been worth over three wins the last two years and is on pace for over four this year. But he does not have much in surplus value- what you’re paying for is what you get. Fortunately, that means he should not cost a bushel of prospects.

The Mets have what it takes to land Lee, but my guess is they are unwilling to to do so without the guarantee of a contract extension; this is a rational approach. If Lee is still Bronx-bound near the end of July, I would go for Oswalt.

So here is how exactly I would approach the deadline at this point:

Plan A:
Mets Receive:
Cliff Lee

Mariners Receive:
Ike Davis
Josh Thole
One of: Robert Carson/Jeurys Familia

(72 hour extension window included).

No Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, or Jon Niese. If the Mariners insist on Fernando Martinez instead of Davis, it would be a tough call, but I doubt they would turn this offer down.

To replace Davis, the Mets could simply deal for Ty Wiggington or Adam LaRoche to take over first base duties the rest of this year.

Why Davis over the others? Davis has several flaws. He has a very long swing, and his plate discipline and pitch recognition are major question marks. We have seen changeups and breaking balls wreak havoc on him time and again.

In addition, Davis’s strikeout rate (23.4%), is acceptable if he can provide sufficient power. Unfortunately, that is a Kirsite-Alley-sized “if”. We all know he “steps in the bucket”, opening up his hips prior to contact and thus sapping him of power. We have also heard how he drops his hands into his load, making him vulnerable to fastballs in. And average-hitting first baseman are a dime a dozen.

Of course, all the above mentioned players are flawed in one respect or another, and I am sure there is some reason to think Ike Davis can rise to stardom. In addition, it is hard trading the only guy showing he can be successful at the big league level.

The consensus, however, is that Davis likely does not have a high ceiling. Now, having solid, albeit unspectacular young players on the cheap is good for any ballclub, and Mets would do well to heed this fundamental concept.

I have always been of the theory, however, that teams such as the Mets, given their financial advantage, should be more lenient about trading those kinds prospects, and always opt. for the higher ceiling player instead (which F-Mart, Mejia, and Flores all appear to be). If managed smartly, the Mets can always pay for average players on the market, but young all-star caliber players are rarely available, period. The two are not mutually exclusive, but in a scenario such as this, it helps guide the decision making.

Plan B:
Mets Receive:
Roy Oswalt
Matt Lindstrom

Astros Receive:
Cesar Puello
Nick Evans
Brandon Moore
Yohan Almonte

By overpaying for Oswalt to save face for the Astros, we also acquire Lindstrom as a token prize.

Plan C:
Mets Receive:
Kevin Millwood

Orioles Receive:
Taylor Whitenton

As a type B free agent, Millwood is worth a compensation pick in next year’s draft, which is estimated to be worth around $2.5 million. He is still owed half of his remaining $12 million salary this year, however, so the Orioles would be wise to simply let Millwood go for some bats and balls instead of holding out for something more. Whitenton makes that decision easier.

Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at:
  1. Bill June 29, 2010 at 11:30 am
    Looking at those numbers it’s hard to argue. He either needs to figure it out in a hurry and get back to where he was earlier in the year, or the Mets need to get serious about finding a replacement. Now that the bloom is off Takahashi’s rose, and Dickey struggled last night, maybe it will increase the urgency? I’m not saying to count out Dickey too, but to be fair, the Mets have been extremely lucky to get 6 wins out of him to date….Much more than they could’ve hoped when he entered the rotation.
  2. James K. June 29, 2010 at 11:53 am
    Matt, I think your starter numbers for Takahashi are a bit off. I have the following, per FanGraphs:

    1.17 HR/9
    4.41 FIP

    His K/BB rate as a starter is 2.17, which is actually 2nd best of the starters besides R.A. Dickey. I think you’re selling Takahashi short here.

    A 4.41 FIP is more than acceptable from a 5th starter. In fact, in a post I wrote last year elsewhere, a 4.41 FIP in the National League is actually a #3 starter. I’d have more confidence in Tak than Carmona or Millwood going forward and it won’t require trading anything.

  3. isuzudude June 29, 2010 at 12:38 pm
    This article is pure craziness. I don’t even know where to start.

    Ok, first with Takahashi. In 7 starts this season he has given up 5 home runs. Is that really so bad to say he is unworthy of a rotation spot? And 4 of those home runs came in 2 starts. If you take those 2 starts out, suddenly you’re left with a great pitcher who’s only allowed one homer in 5 starts. Have we also forgotten that in 3 starts against the powerhouse Yankees and Phillies that Takahashi has pitched a combined 18 scoreless innings? And how is he a 5-6 inning pitcher? In 5 of his 7 starts he’s at least worked into the 6th inning, and only in 2 starts has he been left in a game after he reached 100 pitches – meaning that, once again, a player is being blamed unfairly while Jerry Manuel is escaping criticism for not leaving a starting pitcher in a game longer. And why is being a flyball pitcher a bad thing considering the Mets play their home games at the cavernous CitiField? It seems to me like he’d be playing into his home field’s strength by inducing more flyballs.

    But whatever. If the team benefits from having Takahashi in the bullpen rather than the rotation, I’m all for it. So let’s find a replacement. The guys you mention are certainly on the radar, but I disagree strongly with some of your proposals and praises.

    With Millwood, I love how you mention that he’s been surrendering home runs left and right this year (a league leading 19 to be exact), but dismiss this concern citing Millwood’s significantly lower career HR/9 rate; yet, you talk about Millwood’s high strikeout rate this season as if it’s a career norm for him, when the truth is Millwood’s strikeout rate hasn’t been this high in years, and should be projected to drop-off just as much as you predict his HR/9 rate to decrease as well. A convenient omission, I say. No doubt moving from Baltimore to CitiField will help Millwood keep the ball in the park more often. But it still won’t help Millwood from giving up screaming line drives and gap shots. His opp avg this year is an ugly .299, and before posting an uncharacteristic .257 last year was .312 and .301 in ’08 & ’07. One doesn’t compile numbers like that for so long by only giving up ballpark-aided home runs and seeing eye singles. Additionally, the moniker of “5-6 inning pitcher” can just as easily be applied to Millwood as Takahashi, as Millwood has failed to last longer than 6 innings in any of his last 6 starts (almost the sample size of Takahashi’s tenure in the rotation), and he’s seen his ERA rise from 3.71 to 5.22 over that time. Millwood is a pitcher in obvious regression and there is very little evidence that he can provide the Mets with any more solid of a starting pitching influence than what Takahashi is already displaying.

    Now, there’s no doubt that Lee or Oswalt would give the Mets a legitimate boost to their rotation. But where are you coming from with these trade proposals? Firstly, all the rumors regarding Lee reveal that the Mariners want a package headlined by Niese and Mejia, and yet you include neither in your deal. Instead, you counter with Ike Davis, a singles hitting catcher, and a low-grade pitching prospect. Not only do I believe that’s going to fall way short of what Seattle would accept for Lee, but your reasoning for cutting bait on Davis is crazy. Who did you consult with to come to the “consensus” that Davis does not have a high ceiling? The guy is a rookie batting cleanup in NY and is performing quite admirably. Not to mention the Mets were 4-8 when he was recalled and instilled as the everyday 1B, and they have since played 14 games better than .500. This can’t merely be a coincidence. And you mention his flaws as if he’s a 10 year veteran who’s reached his full potential and is past the point of refining his game and learning from his mistakes. On the contrary, Davis is only 23 and has MANY years to develop into an even better player than he is now. No one expects him to be the next Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard, but what he can give the Mets is a cheap source of dependable defense and power for another 4-5 years. You want to give that up for a rental? Ridiculous!

    As a Met fan I’d love if your Oswalt proposal came to fruition. But whereas you see the Mets as “overpaying,” I see the Astros as getting hardly anything in return for an ace pitcher and a reliable closer. None of the prospects you’d want to give Houston are sure future major league contributors, and only Evans is playing above A ball. Do you really expect the Mets to get this awesome package from the Astros in exchange for virtually no major league ready talent? That’s a complete joke.

    Sorry to sound like a jerk, but I’m glad Matt’s not the GM of the Mets. I don’t think we see eye to eye on anything he wrote about in this piece.

  4. Matt Himelfarb June 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm
    Your right about the #s James. My mistake. I didn’t multiply the strikeouts by 2 in the FIP formula, which is why I ended up with 5.16.
  5. Matt Himelfarb June 29, 2010 at 1:12 pm
    In hindsight, Takahashi is hardly “unworthy” of a spot in the rotation. I can see the benefit in acquiring someone like Millwood- a linear move has its’ advantages. It would improve the bullpen and add depth to the rotation. But you can also probably improve the bullpen by packaging guys such as Whitenton anyways.

    As the league continues to catch on to Takahashi, maybe this will hold true. But right now, Takahashi is not as bad as I made him out to be, and I need to admit that. Thank you for pointing that out James.

  6. Matt Himelfarb June 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm
    Iszudude, I think you make a decent point about the innings pitched. Also, Millwood pitches in the AL, which allows him to go deeper into games. Millwood does seem to have a reputation as the innings eater type. I don’t see Tak as a 200 IP guy though, but you raise a fair point.

    However, I do take issue with your comments afterwards/

    Re Millwood: I did acknowledge the expected drop in his K rate. Going from the AL East to the Mets should lower his BABIP as well.

    Oswalt will come cheap because he is a salary dump guy. There’s an excellent article here on this point:

    Basically, he is only a 3-4 win pitcher at this point, and he’s making $16 million. In other words, he is making what he is worth, meaning he has no “surplus value.”

    It’s very similar to what lead Bobby Abreu to being traded. Oswalt will cost a little more, given the PR issue with the Astros trading their ace, but he is not going to cost too much.

    Again, on Lee- I specifically mentioned that I wouldn’t make the offer without a contract extension window.

    The deal is also hardly unreasonable, IMO. The Mariners need a 1B and a C. Davis+Thole+Carson/Familia is better than 2 draft picks. Just because they are asking for Mejia and Niese does not mean they will settle for less. The Twins may have asked for Hughes/Chamberlain/F-Mart, but we got Santana without them.

    Right now, the centerpiece of the proposed deal with the Twins is Wilson Ramos, who is 22 with a .575 OPS. in AAA.

  7. Walnutz15 June 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm
    I can’t really write much more than ‘Dude already did. Why are we looking to trade Ike Davis, of all the packages of prospects we could potentially put together?

    I read your rationale/reasoning — and I just can’t agree with it. Like ‘dude mentions, and one of the first things on my mind after I read: Where’s this “consensus” coming from, that Davis doesn’t have a “high ceiling”?

    Aside from the tremendous pop he’s displayed already, he goes pretty well the other way — and plays a world better defense at 1st than any of the other clowns we’ve auditioned at the position since Delgado came into the fray.

    For a rental player, that’s kinda crazy. Understood, you have worked in the negotiation window for Lee’s extension….but I don’t see that happening.

    If you can secure Oswalt and Lindstrom for that package up there, then sign me right up. Don’t see that happening, though.