How the Mets Might Have Landed Dan Haren

Yesterday, the Angels acquired Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks for southpaw Joe Saunders and three pitching prospects: Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, and Rafael Rodriguez.

The consensus, in a nutshell, is that the deal is reminiscent of a cross between the Dutch’s purchase of New York City from the Native Americans and the infamous Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano mind-boggler six years ago. In other words, to put it euphemistically, the Diamondbacks got the raw end of the stick here.

What would an equivalent trade with the Mets look like? Mike Pelfrey would probably be a good starting point in place of Joe Saunders. I know, I first rejected this notion, in part because Pelfrey is, indeed, a better pitcher than Saunders.

Mets fans, however, were also probably deluded by Pelfrey’s flirtation with dominance earlier this year. The comparison is more legitimate than most people think. For one, I compiled their numbers and calculated their FIP over the last three years:

Pelfrey:

504.1 IP

262 SO

176 BB

37 HR’s

FIP: 4.16

Saunders:

504.2 IP

268 SO

162 BB

64 HR’s

FIP: 4.75

As you can see, their innings pitched, strikeouts, and walks, are all frighteningly similar. Even their ground ball rate is very close- Pelfrey’s usually around 50%, and Saunders is closer to 45%.

The glaring discrepancy, obviously, is the number of dingers allowed. Pelfrey’s HR/9 rate over the last three years is an excellent .66, while Saunders is a whooping 1.27. Of course, Pelfrey’s had the advantage of pitching in favorable parks such as Shea Stadium and Citi Field the majority of his career. His career HR/9 rate is .89 on the road and .55 at home. Maybe that is just a sample size mirage and he is due for some regression, but Pelfrey’s been around for some time now; he has made 56 starts and thrown 345.2 innings at home, and has 44 starts and 252.2 innings on the road.

It’s not like Saunders has been unlucky, though. His HR/FB rate is actually 10.3%, below the typical 11-12% average. Saunders is a less productive pitcher than Mike Pelfrey, because he allows more home runs, plain and simple.

If you are a fan of XFIP, which adjusts for HR/FB rate (assumes the pitcher is average), Pelfrey’s xFIP is 4.46, and Saunders’ is 4.8. One thing I will note is that Pelfrey’s kept his HR/FB rate down for his entire career, which I would expect is more a function of Shea Stadium and Citi Field than luck in itself.  This means Pelfrey can probably maintain his low HR/FB rate so long as he remains a Met, and his FIP is the best gauge of his future worth to the team. Further, if he did leave the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field, his ERA should not be expected to rise much more than his xFIP suggest.

Going by XFIP, Saunders is a high-end fifth starter, Pelfrey a solid, if unspectacular fourth. Going by FIP, Saunders is once again a top-notch fifth starter, but Pelfrey’s about an average number three starter.

Regardless of what stat you favor, Pelfrey’s only about a half run better of ERA better than Saunders, probably even less. I am not sure what that works out to in terms of WAR, but looking over similar examples, the difference is more or less just a half-win. That is only about $2-$2.5 million per year in monetary value.

For better or worse, Saunders (29) is three years older than Pelfrey (26). But Saunders’ perceived value is higher for several reasons. He is left-handed, and the switch to the National League should at least slightly improve his stats. Plus, Pelfrey’s in the midst of a so-called “dead-arm” phase, which does not help his trade value.

How do the Mets stack up in terms of matching prospects? Skaggs, in a nutshell, embodies all the risks and rewards of a promising 19 year-old pitcher in A-Ball; Corbin that of a 21 year-old in advanced-A ball, although it does not sound like he has much of a high ceiling. Rodriguez is a meaningless throw-in.

If this were 2009, Kyle Allen and Jeurys Familia would be an awesomely fitting comparison. That is not the case this year, but because Pelfrey is the centerpiece of our hypothetical trade we can slack on prospects. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and either Robert Carson or Familia would probably fit the bill.

None of it really seems to matter. Not because it’s all hypothetical, but I feel like I am picking at straws, so to speak. We are talking Dan Haren. He is 29, under contract at an affordable rate for three more years, and a flat-out stud. The D-Backs could have had Ike Davis or Fernando Martinez for all I care.

It’s easy to blame Omar Minaya and co. for not being aggressive - and probably ignorant of the fact Haren’s 4.6 ERA is the product of bad luck. By that, standard, however, we probably have to accuse at least a half-dozen other teams of the same offense. I just do not get it.

Matt is a high school student in New Jersey and avid Mets fan. He occasionally updates his blog at: matthimelfarb.wordpress.com
  1. Paul July 26, 2010 at 8:05 am
    We may not want to hear it, but I think it’s possible that the economy isn’t leaving teams the flexibility to take on salary commitments that they could in the past.

    It will be very interesting to see how things play out this winter in that regard.

  2. srt July 26, 2010 at 8:17 am
    Good analysis.

    Getting Haren at the expense of Pelfrey or even Niese, just leaves another hole to fill in the starting rotation going forward. We need to add and not add by subtracting. SP is at a premium, the way it is.

    I would have gladly parted with FMart for Haren. But Davis? Uh….no.

  3. dances_w_vowels July 26, 2010 at 8:46 am
    Agreed with the above…great analysis. But, is Haren at $13-15M so much better than Pelfrey at (this year $500K) next year’s ~$$5-7M? The need right now is offense, and it isn’t coming from where we expect it. Jason Bay is not being paid for his defense, but that’s the only thing he is doing better than average. And Beltran has been MIA. I would stock up on relievers but the last 11 games the Mets ERA is under 3.7 and we went 2-9.
    • Mike July 26, 2010 at 9:40 am
      Seriously. Pelfrey’s value is why that deal is ludicrous. His age (26), his career trend (up), and his salary, does not make Haren for Pelfrey a match the same way Saunders is a match. But whatever, XFIP tells you Pelfrey is a 4th starter, so he must be expendable.
  4. mooshinator July 26, 2010 at 10:55 am
    I agree with Joe’s analysis to some extent, in the sense that a Pelfrey for Haren trade would certainly be an upgrade for the rest of the year and thus would make a good amount of sense if the Mets still had a shot at the playoffs.

    But do they really have a shot? They have so many holes right now that I think they need a lot more than a single starting pitching fix, so in that sense I look at the idea of a Pelfrey/Haren swap with respect to how it will affect next year and I wonder if it’s better to pay $10 million to upgrade Pelfrey to Haren and still have gaping holes in the back of the rotation, or if it’s better to dump $15 million to sign a #2 starter that will effectively bump Pelfrey down to being a #3, closer to where he belongs.

    My assumption is that trading for Haren would prevent the Mets from going after a FA pitcher in the offseason. However, I may be lowballing by thinking we could get a #2 starter for $15 million…

    • Andy July 26, 2010 at 11:07 am
      I agree that just upgrading the starting pitching wouldn’t be enough for the Mets to have a playoff shot. They are floundering, and they have a lot more problems than just that.

      If it were closer then I’d agree with Matt’s suggestion that Pelf plus some prospects would be worth giving up for Haren. But we’re not in that situation. At this point the Mets should be sellers, not buyers. It’s time to look to 2011 and beyond . . .

    • joe July 26, 2010 at 11:35 am
      Mooshinator, thanks for weighing in. You bring up a very good point — do the Mets have a chance?

      The main reason the Mets would make any deal right now is to convince fans that they should continue to pay attention to the team and buy tickets through the end of the season. That said, knowing the fan base’s love for “homegrown” players, I’d be surprised to see them trade away Pelfrey.

      FYI, this article was written by Matt Himelfarb, not me.

      • mooshinator July 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm
        Ahh, my apologies, Joe!
  5. Mic July 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm
    Really? The emergence of Niese has me thinking about trading Pelfrey. That and BP AND Jenry could compete for the rotation as soon as next year. Plus Pel is a prime target as a young, tested, ML starter under control.

    - Other than who is worth trading?

    - Phils want to trade (FA 2 be) Werth and get prospects to trade for Oswalt (*?). We could similar…