The Mets starting pitching staff is in some ways “Johan Santana and the rest.”Â Santana is coming off what by many statistical measures (IP, W, K/9, BB/9, K/BB, BAA, WHIP) was his worst season as a full time starter, and even at his worst he was the best the Mets had to offer.
According to Fangraphs.com, based on WAR and Dollar Value (you may click here to learn more about how these metrics are calculated), Santana ranked 51st among qualified ML starting pitchers at 2.8 and $12.4 million respectively.Â So by these measures there were 50 people in the majors who outperformed our ace.Â Yes he made only 25 starts due to injury but he did throw enough innings to qualify for consideration.
The second highest ranked pitcher on the Mets starting staff was Mike Pelfrey, who made 31 starts and came in 66th at 1.8 and $7.9 million respectively.Â Considering that there are 30 teams in the major leagues, having your injured ace rank 51st and your young # 2 rank 66th doesn’t sound too bad right?Â Well, if you think so, you’ll probably want to stop reading now.Â Only 77 starting pitchers threw enough pitches to even qualify for the discussion.
The Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies each had 4 starting pitchers rank higher than the 66th place Pelfrey, the Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays had 3, and the Arizona Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins had 2.Â This does not include any player who pitched for more than 1 team in 2009, and even without including Cliff Lee the Philadelphia Phillies had 2 pitchers who out ranked Pelfrey.
That’s 15 of the 30 major league teams that had at least 2 starting pitchers ranked higher than the Mets second best starting pitcher.Â 13 of those 15 teams had winning records, the Astros won 74 games and the Diamondbacks, like the Mets, won 70.Â 6 of those 15 teams were among the 8 teams that reached the post season.Â 1 of them won the World Series.
On those teams Pelfrey would’ve been a 3rd-5th starter, and that is what he needs to be on the Mets.Â Will Oliver Perez, John Maine or some other in house option perform well enough to nudge Pelfrey down the depth chart?Â Will Pelfrey mature into the role?Â Perhaps.Â But these are not gambles I am willing to take.
We here at TRDMB have already had many spirited debates about who qualifies to fill the role of # 2 starting pitcher.Â In fact, we’ve also debated whether pitchers should even be ranked # 1, 2, 3 and so on, at all.Â I think the 13 teams with winning records including the 6 playoff teams that all had at least 2 pitchers rank higher than 66th in the league would agree that pitcher slotting is relevant and ranking them is a worthwhile endeavor.Â After all, 30 teams with 5 starters equals 150 starters.Â It’s wonderful to have Zack Greinke, who at 9.4 and $42.4 million ranked # 1 overall in the major leagues, but when the guys following him in the rotation are old friend Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar, you win 65 games.
Please understand I’m talking about the pitcher’s overall rank as it relates to their role.Â I know Jeremy Guthrie is the Orioles “# 1″ pitcher in that he pitches Opening Day and every 5 days after.Â The problem with that is that he ranks 75th in the major leagues of the 77 qualifiers.Â He’s not a true # 1 in much the same way that Mike Pelfrey is not a true # 2.Â He is miscast in his role and the team, and he, suffers from it.
Sticking solely to available free agents, the person I covet most for the role of # 2 starting pitcher is John Lackey.Â I doubt the Mets will be the only team that might be interested in Lackey, and the competition may drive his price beyond the pale.Â I will now attempt to demonstrate further why the Mets need to go above and beyond to get him.
Based on 2009 WAR and Dollar Values, the following available free agents outperformed the injured Santana last season:
- Joel Pineiro, 4.8, $21.5
- John Lackey, 3.9, $17.6
- Jason Marquis, 3.8, $17.1
- Carl Pavano, 3.7, $16.5
- Andy Pettitte, 3.3, $15.0
- Randy Wolf, 3.0, $13.6
and the following available free agents were ranked between # 51 Santana and # 66 Pelfrey last year:
Obviously we can’t base our choice(s) on simply what players accomplished, or didn’t accomplish, last year alone.Â Here are the same pitchers career average WAR and Dollar Values:
- Joel Pineiro, 2.2, $7.6
- John Lackey, 3.9, $14.4
- Jason Marquis, 1.2, $4.9
- Carl Pavano, 1.9, $6.5
- Andy Pettitte, 4.2, $14.8
- Randy Wolf, 1.8, $6.3
- Brad Penny, 2.5, $9.0
- Jon Garland, 2.7, $9.9
- Jarrod Washburn, 2.2, $7.6
Just for comparison:
Something I gather from these numbers is something that many of you probably already knew before reading this, which is Pineiro, Marquis and Pavano noticeably out pitched their career norms in 2009.Â Will that prove to be an exception or a trend?Â I would prefer not to pay to find out.
In my opinion Pettitte seems unlikely to become a Met, and while the rest of the gentlemen are to be applauded for their consistency, they’re not consistent at a high enough level for me to confidently stick them into the # 2 role.Â Should either Brad Penny, Jon Garland or Jarrod Washburn be added to push Pelfrey, Maine or Perez further down in, or perhaps out of the rotation, I won’t complain.
For me what it all boils down to is this:Â Lackey or bust;Â Lackey4Mets; Lackey Lack Lack, don’t talk back.Â I can’t suggest to you that signing John Lackey guarantees anything.Â But when 13 of 15 teams that do something have winning records, and 6 of 8 teams that do something make the playoffs, that something seems worthy of strong consideration.
I believe that if the Mets don’t come out of this off season with a viable # 2 starting pitcher their 2010 season may resemble # 2.Â I think the numbers suggest that the only viable # 2 starting pitcher available through free agency is John Lackey.Â E-Harmony has matched up the Mets and John Lackey.Â The question is, are the Mets willing to commit?
UPDATE:Â Through discussion in the comments section below, we’ve come up with a more concise way of expressing the most important point that I’ve failed to make clearly here.Â So below is a list of the teams that based on 2009 WAR rankings had “two aces” or two starting pitchers who ranked in the top 30 overall.Â They are listed by team, pitcher, ranking.
- Cardinals (Wainwright 11, Carpenter 13, Pineiro 16)
- Marlins (Nolasco 14, Johnson 19)
I somehow overlooked them in my initial research so make it 14 of 16 teams with winning records
- Red Sox (Lester 8, Beckett 15)
- Angels (Lackey 22, Weaver 23)
- Braves (Vazquez 7, Jurrjens 24)
- Rockies (Jimenez 12, Marquis 26, Hammel 28, De La Rosa 30)
and if Iâ€™m allowed to count Cliff Lee for the Phillies (but I understand that may not be fair as some of his work was done for the Indians)
- Phillies (Lee 6, Hamels 27)
All 7 teams with at least â€œtwo acesâ€ had winning records and 5 of the 7 made the playoffs.