Here’s candidate 6, applying for Saber Guy.
The Next R.A. Dickey??
With word that this week’s second interviews with ownership were going to be focused on Sandy Alderson and Josh Byrnes’ plans for next season, I thought I’d take a look at some realistic options for improving the club, starting with, aptly enough, starting pitching. One thing Mets fans will have to look forward to, regardless of who’s chosen to replace Omar Minaya, is a GM who understands (if not relies on) advanced statistical metrics. This is particularly vital for the Mets this off-season, because there is limited money to be spent, and the real value in “sabermetrics” is to identify players that other teams under value for one reason or another. To be sure, GM’s like Omar are capable of finding the occasional R.A. Dickey in the rough, so to speak, but that’s more a function of luck than any real skill. And remember, past pitching depth in the Minaya regime included such gems as Jeremi Gonzalez.
One thing is for sure, the Mets will need at least two additional starters to begin next season. On opening day, the only “sure things” are Pelfrey, Dickey and Niese. Dillon Gee and Pat Misch are certainly options for the 5th starter role, but the team would still need more pitchers in the (likely) event that one or more starters from the current group are either injured or ineffective.
I, like any other Mets fan, would love to see the team sign Cliff Lee. However, there’s a better chance of James Dolan being a five-day champion on Jeopardy.
So, what are the Mets alternatives? The good news is that it should be relatively easy for the Mets to use some fairly well known advanced statistics to identify and sign for little money, a couple of starters on the open market who will at the very least provide rotation depth, and at best, see at least one of them become the 2011 R.A. Dickey.
In general, so-called “advanced” pitching statistics are based on the principle that the stats we as fans normally think of when we evaluate pitching – Wins, Losses, and ERA – are not the most accurate predictors of how pitchers: a) really pitched that season; and more importantly: b) are going to pitch in future seasons. The reason this is true is fairly straightforward; the normal stats don’t tell us about luck, they don’t tell us about defense, and they don’t adjust for a pitcher’s home ball park (where we can expect at least half of his innings to come from). The last point is particularly significant for the Mets, who are in a ballpark that suppresses home runs. All other things being equal, a fly-ball pitcher is going to be more effective pitching in Citi Field as opposed to, say, Citizens Bank Bandbox.
To identify who the Mets might pursue, I looked at the upcoming free agent pool, as well as mlbtraderumors.com’s likely non-tender list, as well as pitchers who have been rumored to be available in a trade, and then checked that list against some advanced pitching statistics that Baseball Prospectus makes available. In particular, I was looking for three things. First, a pitcher with a high percentage of fly-balls allowed, with the theory being that a pitcher who allowed a lot of fly-balls might benefit from a move to Citi Field. Second, I wanted a pitcher who had a lower SIERA than his actual ERA. What does this mean? Basically, SIERA is a way to determine what a pitcher’s ERA should have been. Finally, I was looking for pitchers who had an abnormally high BABIP last season (Sorry Gary, Keith and Ron). BABIP
tells us how hitters did when they put the ball in play against a particular pitcher. The MLB average is around .300, but some pitchers do seem to vary consistently from that average so it is helpful to check the season mark against career norms.
Without further adue, some potential “finds” for the 2011 NY Mets.
1) Rich Harden—Last year, he signed a one-year $7 million contract with Texas. He was horrible. But I think he is likely to bounce back at Citi Field. Pitching for Texas meant pitching in the Ballpark at Arlington, a hitters haven. Harden gave up fly-balls 38.7% of the time, the highest in baseball for any starting pitcher with more than 10 starts. Unsurprisingly, Harden gave up 18 home runs in only 92 IP last year. In contrast, in 2004, when he threw 190 innings, he only gave up 16 homers while pitching half his time in the pitcher-friendly Coliseum. Further, while his SIERA was a high 5.22, it was lower than his actual ERA of 5.58. The only warning sign – his BABIP was a low (although not out of the ordinary for Harden) .279. But, we’re not looking for Cy Young here, just someone who can be a good value. After this past season, Harden could probably be had for around $1 million next season plus incentives.
2) Charlie Morton—He’s not a Free Agent, yet, but Pittsburgh probably won’t bring him back after he went 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA. Nonetheless, I think he’d do a lot better pitching at Citi Field next season. First, his BABIP (like many on Pittsburgh’s staff last season) was an outrageously high .369 – basically the entire league was like Josh Hamilton against him. In contrast, the league hit .290 against him in 2008 and .315 against him in 2009. Even if his numbers go back to the 2009 total, he’s due for a far better 2011. Morton’s SIERA was also 4.26, which demonstrates he pitched much better than his actual ERA indicates. His FB% was only 25.1 percent and PNC Park isn’t great for hitters either. Nonetheless, it seems Morton was just a victim of some bad luck and should be poised for a bounceback 2011 and won’t cost more than $750k.
3) Aaron Harang—Long identified as someone who might be a quality pickup for the Mets, he is a classic example of a pitcher who would benefit from a change in scenery. Forced to pitch in Great American Ball Park, Harang’s fly-ball tendencies have turned him from a dominant starter to a mediocre one (Dusty Baker’s handling of him hasn’t helped either). Last year, Harang had an astronomical .345 BABIP with a fly ball percentage of 32.1 percent. His SIERA was 4.44, nearly a full run lower than his actual 5.32 ERA. Think of Harang as a bizarro Jason Bay, a veteran who comes to Citi Field only to see the homers he allows turn into fly balls to the warning track. Can’t see him signing for more than $3 million.
4) James Shields—Rumor is the Rays may try and trade “Big Game” James. If so, the Mets should have interest. Shields had an awful 2010, most likely penance for stats in past seasons that outpaced his true talent. In 2011, out of the AL East and pitching in Citi Field, Shields would be poised to once again excel. While Shields didn’t give up an especially large number of fly-balls (28.7%), his BABIP was .345 and his SIERA was 3.57, nearly two runs below his 5.18 ERA. For perspective, Johan’s SIERA before he was hurt was 4.18, more than half a run higher than Shields’. While Shields won’t come as cheaply as some other names
on this list (he is due to make $4.25 million next season), he likely offers the greatest reward.
In short, the Mets can make their rotation better for 2011, and don’t need Cliff Lee to do it.