How the Mets Might Have Landed Dan Haren
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:
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.