Browsing Archive November, 2010

Free Agent Focus: Scott Downs

There has been some buzz here and there around the Mets blogosphere that Scott Downs should be a target for General Anderson. Certainly, the team will need some help in the bullpen, especially if Pedro Feliciano finds employment elsewhere — as it appears is likely to be the case.

But I don’t think Downs makes any sense, despite the fact he is a proven lefthanded reliever with the ability to retire both lefties and righties.

First, you have to consider his age — he’ll be 35 years old before Opening Day, folks. That’s right, it’s not a misprint; Downs was born on St. Paddy’s Day in 1976. Just because you never heard of him before two years ago doesn’t mean he’s only a few years out of the minors. His advanced age alone is reason enough for the Mets to steer clear — particularly since this team will be in a rebuilding phase through the next two years. By the time the team is ready to contend, Downs will be in his late 30s.

Second, even if the Mets were interested, they can’t afford him. A lefthander who retires RHs and LHs with equal aplomb, allows less than a baserunner an inning, and rarely gives up gopher balls, doesn’t come cheap. Downs’ agent will present the recent signing of Joaquin Benoit to a 3-year, $16.5M deal as a relevant comp. Benoit, by the way, is only a year younger than Downs. Considering that Sandy Alderson has about $5M to play with on free agents this winter, my guess is he won’t want to blow the whole load on one individual. Chances are, the bidding will start at $5M per year — if not more — and deeper pockets such as the Yankees, Rangers, Angels, and Phillies could all be in play for his services.

Finally, there is history to consider. Do you remember the last time the Mets shelled out over $10M on a 3-year deal for a thirty-something lefthanded reliever coming off a career year? It didn’t work out so well.

Scott Downs would be a nice piece to a championship puzzle, but that’s not the puzzle the Mets are working on in 2011.

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2010 Analysis: David Wright

It has to be tough being David Wright; if he doesn’t win the Triple Crown and a Gold Glove while leading the Mets to the playoffs, his season is a disappointment.

OK, maybe it’s not that bad, but many fans have great expectations for the Mets’ answer to Derek Jeter. In some ways, deservedly so – he is, after all, the “face of the franchise”.

Year in and year out, Wright puts up numbers that place him among the top third baseman in the NL. But somehow, that’s not enough – he’s either unclutch, or too streaky, or otherwise underperforming. Unfortunately, that’s what comes with the territory of stardom in New York City.

But in 2010, some of the disappointment was warranted. For one, Wright’s defense fell off slightly compared to where he was in ’07 and ’08. On offense, several numbers took a disturbing dive – specifically his OBP (.354) and batting average (.283), both of which were career lows.

In addition to what the numbers stated, our eyes saw a marked difference in David Wright – changes that can be attributed to the cavernous character of Citi Field. For the second time in as many years, Wright changed his swing and his approach to account for his home park. In 2009, he cut down his swing slightly and focused on turning fat pitches into line drives instead big flies. That resulted in a drastic drop in homeruns but a soaring batting average – and criticism from many, who expected him to be more of a slugger. So in 2010, he lengthened his swing, adjusted it to provide more lift, and took more forceful cuts on most pitches in an obvious attempt to beat the vast distances of the Citi Field outfield fences. He succeeded in hitting more homeruns, but at the cost of 40 points in batting average, and nearly another 40 in OBP. Further, the notion that he is a “streaky” hitter had weight, as Wright cycled through hot streaks and cold spells not before seen by the young third baseman. In the past, when Wright was accused of being “cold”, it was usually just a temporary drop in power that didn’t affect his ability to put the ball in play and collect base hits at a .290 – .300 rate. But in 2010, when he went cold, he was ice cold – seemingly unable to make contact with the ball. Indeed, his 161 strikeouts and 27.4% strikeout rate were easily the highest of his career. Granted, part of Wright’s failures could be attributed to lack of protection in the lineup and his decision to try to carry the team on his shoulders. However, his response to those issues resulted in a less valuable David Wright.

2011 Projection

Wright needs to get back to the swing mechanics and approach he displayed from 2006 – 2008, when he was a lock to get on base 40% of the time and consistently hit the ball with authority. Forget the park, forget the homeruns, forget who is hitting behind him and simply be the best hitter he can be. Easier said than done, of course, especially considering the outside pressures of NYC and the motivation of a potentially huge contract looming in the not-so-distant future. Despite the popularity of Moneyball and the acceptance of its basic tenets by most successful organizations, teams still pay top dollar for home runs, not OBP – maybe because players rarely receive a standing ovation for talking a walk. In any case, I’d much rather see a David Wright who can’t get to double digits in homers but vies for the NL batting crown, scores 110+ runs, and drives in another 100+. Whether he’ll go back to being that guy depends on what the new front office communicates to him, who they surround him with, and how David chooses to go forward with his mechanics and approach.

Read the 2009 Evaluation of David Wright

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Rudy Terrasas Draft Review

Saturday officially marked the end of the Rudy Terrasas Era in Flushing. He served as the Mets scouting director since 2006.

Terrasas was famously hamstrung by the Wilpon’s unwilingness to go over-slot year after year. That being said, it is still hard to find much good to say about his tenure, which we will examine throughly, beginning today with his first draft back in 06.

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Mets Hire Terry Collins to Manage in 2011

Thankfully, and mercifully, the process of hiring the 2011 Mets manager has finally come to a conclusion; the Mets have hired Terry Collins.

After the hiring of General Anderson, I distinctly remember the pundits informing us that the new GM was likely to hire a new manager swiftly. It sure didn’t feel “swift”, but at least it’s over. Now we can move on to much more important matters, like, who is going to replace Charlie Samuels in the clubhouse?

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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.

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Mets Should Consider Trading Mike Pelfrey

This is an article written by Matt Himelfarb

After a disappointing 2009, Mike Pelfrey rebounded big time in 2010, going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 204 innings pitched. With Johan Santana expected to be sidelined until at least Opening Day, and the unclear financial stature of the Mets, no one dare wants to broach the idea of trading Pelfrey, who is entering just his first year of arbitration this winter. Wright, Reyes, Beltran? Hey, its’ house cleaning time. Yet, nary a mention of Pelfrey.

There is good reason to think, however, that Pelfrey’s market value is probably inflated right now, and it would behoove the Mets to sell high on him. His tidy surface stats belie the fact that he is, most likely, a rather pedestrian pitcher. After all, looking at Pelfrey’s peripherals, he is just not particularly good at anything. He does not strike out a lot of hitters, and his walk rate is more or less average. He induces a decent number of ground-balls (around 50% of his batted balls were grounders), but no one is confusing him for Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe in his prime. Most importantly, these three factors have held remarkably constant the last three years, despite varying ERAs.

What has correlated with Pelfrey’s success is a lower number of home runs allowed, stemming from a lower HR/FB rate. (Note: league average HR/FB rate is 10-11%).

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*I did not actually calculate his average xFIP over the last three years, but averaged them all together, so the difference is fairly negligible.

HR/FB rate does not correlate well from year to year, and is highly dependent on luck, so part of the reason Pelfrey has outperformed his expected performance can be attributed to luck.

But, we are talking about a fairly large sample size (589 innings), where regression to the mean should have taken place if it were purely about luck. Instead, Pelfrey was able to maintain a low HR/FB rate, and outperform his xFIP by nearly half a run (.39), indicating that his ability to limit homers had a lot to do with pitching in a favorable home ballpark (Shea Stadium in 2008, Citi Field the last two years). While it is unclear to what extent Citi Field suppresses home runs, Pelfrey has performed significantly better at home than on the road the past two years, as have many of his teammates.

Hence, Pelfrey’s performance is not necessarily unsustainable, per se. As long as he is starting half his outings in Citi Field, and has a decent defense behind him (Pelfrey allows more batted balls than the average pitcher, and thus a lower BABIP is also a key component of his success), there is a good chance he can outperform his xFIP, and a sub-4 ERA is attainable for him, as it was in 2008 and 2010.

But the point still remains the same, because if Pelfrey can reap the advantages of pitching in Citi Field, so can numerous other pitchers. Take, for instance, Zach Duke, who was just designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates, after going 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA last year. Pelfrey’s and Duke’s average numbers over the last three seasons are frighteningly similar:

[TABLE=51]

Duke also had much higher BABIP numbers during his tenure with Pittsburgh, due to some awful defenses. He is essentially a left-handed version of Pelfrey. As recently as 2009, Duke threw 213 innings and posted a 4.06 era. If the Mets were to sign him, I could easily see him posting similar, if not better, numbers. Like Pelfrey, that does not mean that is Duke’s true talent level; I am just trying to make my point that Pelfrey is, in fact, more replaceable than people believe.

Glancing over some possible trade partners, sending Pelfrey to the Brewers for Brett Lawrie would be awfully nice, although I doubt Milwaukee would be interested. I could see a deal with the Tigers involving Scott Sizemore or with the Rockies and Chris Nelson, so long as the Mets receive some additional prospects.

Given the fact that Sandy Alderson might be precluded from pursuing big name players due to financial reasons, improving next year’s team will probably require some creativity. Signing someone like Duke, which would enable him to sell high on Pelfrey, could be a step in the right direction.

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Will Fans Give Collins or Melvin Time To Win?

If the people voicing their opinion on the internets (via polls, blogs, blog comments, twitter, facebook, etc.) are any indication, then the majority of Mets fans would like to see Wally Backman installed as manager of the New York Mets in 2011. It would seem that the fans’ second choice is Chip Hale — again, this based on an unreliable, cursory review of the interweb digital super highway.

However there seems to be a universal backlash against the possibility of either Bob Melvin or Terry Collins getting the job.

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