Response to Pelfrey Article
Joe responded to my Pelfrey post earlier today, raising a point that I hear a lot from Mets fans around this time of year. He essentially agreed with my premise that Pelfrey was a potential sell-high candidate, but nevertheless, contended that the Mets should refrain from trading him because the rotation is thin:
I get the idea of selling high on Pelfrey — particularly if it can bring back someone who is younger but with lots of upside and/or MLB experience (i.e. Justin Upton).
But, the Mets — as all teams — need to build with arms, since good pitchers are so hard to find. So wouldn’t it make more sense to hold on to Pelfrey, and add Duke in the hopes you’ll have “two Pelfreys” solidifying the middle of the rotation?
Before I get to Joe’s response, I want to say, admittedly, I have a habit of getting so bogged down in analysis, that I don’t communicate my overall point as well as I should. The point I was trying to make is that, in a neutral setting, Pelfrey’s true talent level is that of a fourth starter with a 4.50 ERA. Hence, if there is a general manager of some other organization who believes his 3.60 ERA last year is more representative of his talent, than it would certainly behoove Sandy Alderson to sell high on him.
Now, with that out of the way, I want to respond to Joe’s point, that the Mets “need” to keep a young arm like Pelfrey, because they already have two holes to fill, and thus, it seems counter-intuitive to think they should be actively shopping one of their starters. John Peterson, who used to write for the now defunct Mets Geek, dispelled this myth perfectly three years ago:
Ignorance of Marginal Value: As good as the Mets are at intuitively recognizing the strength of major league talent, they are poor at determining the relative and marginal value of those players. The team seems stuck in the plug-and-play mentality, where one has “holes” that need to be “filled,” lists of “needs” which are prioritized and satisfied in a linear fashion. The Mets decide that they need “a top starting pitcher,” and they go out and try to get one. They decide they need “a big bat,” so they go get one. This is a bad way to think about things. When teams decide that they absolutely must have a player, they are bound to pay too much. Instead of saying “we need pitching,” smart teams look to see where they can improve most efficiently. Maybe the pitching market is thin, but there’s a solid hitter available. Rather than trying to increase runs scored or decrease runs allowed, a team should aim to positively increase the difference between these two numbers, whether adding from the one or subtracting from the other.
I concur — wholeheartedly — with John Peterson’s sentiment that the Mets have misinterpreted the value of players and that they have been in a constant cycle of filling holes.
However, the organization — and MLB in general — has not had a surplus in quality arms since the early 1990s, maybe the late 1980s. Pitching is thin now, it’s been thin for 20+ years, and it will remain thin going forward thanks to numerous reasons we can detail in another post (or 400-page book).
That said, it’s my humble, un-researched opinion that in order for the Mets to succeed, they need to stockpile arms -and affordable arms in particular. Not because they happen to have some holes in their rotation but because there’s little to nothing available in their system currently. I’d feel similarly about keeping Pelfrey and adding Duke even if I knew Santana would return to 100% health, Dickey was guaranteed to keep his ’10 pace, and Niese was a lock to continue improving. More arms, the better.
One look at the contracts given recently to the likes of Jason Marquis, AJ Burnett, John Lackey, and Joaquin Benoit is evidence for me that pitching of any quality is in high demand and grossly overpriced. That may change at some point in the future but I’m not seeing signs that it will any time soon.