Last time, I explained why I thought Jeff Francis was a better option than Chris Young for the 2011 Mets. After some further thought, I want to stress the point. Not only do I think Francis is better than Young, but I really believe he can be a true steal liberated from Coors Field. His ERA-SIERA gap is almost a run, suggesting that he was both unlucky and a victim of pitching nearly half his games in Coors. Plus, he seems to have largely bounced back from the injuries that sidelined him for most of two seasons.
As I mentioned at the outset last time, I do believe the Mets need not one, but two, starting pitchers for next season. Perhaps the ideal scenario would be if the Mets could work out a trade for another team’s surplusage. I’m on record as saying I’d love to trade for James Shields, and would be willing to give up Angel Pagan to do so.
However, the number of teams willing to trade pitching is small, and our tradeable assets perhaps even smaller. So let’s dive into the remainder of the free agent starter pool.
First up, Freddy Garcia. He’s been linked (and unlinked) to the team in rumors. Last year, Garcia threw more than 100 innings for the first time since 2006. A fair word to describe his work would be “serviceable” as he pitched to a 4.64 ERA with a fairly low 5.10 SO/9, with a somewhat inflated walk rate of 2.58 BB/9. His overall BABIP of .295 is not out of line with his career numbers, so he wasn’t especially lucky. Given that he pitched his home games in a hitters park, we might have expected Garcia to do better on the road. But the opposite is true. Garcia did give up more HR/9 at home (1.64 vs. 1.01) but his ERA was more than half a run lower (4.34 vs. 4.93). In turn, we can chalk up that discrepancy to luck: A .279 BABIP at home (he was lucky) vs. a .310 BABIP on the road (somewhat unlucky). So, with Garcia, basically what we see is what we get. Indeed, his 4.75 SIERA suggests his results were right in line with what we might expect. There’s some reason to believe he could lower his home run rate not pitching in a bandbox and might see marginally better numbers. In short, if Freddy were the 5th starter, we’d be in pretty good shape. His contract demands, however, may just be too much.
A pitcher I haven’t heard linked to the Mets, but I’m fairly high on is Jeremy Bonderman. Still just 28, Bonderman had his first season back from surgery, which caused him to miss the better part of the ’08 and ’09 seasons, last year. On the surface, Bonderman did not pitch well, with a 5.53 ERA. His .304 BABIP and a career low 5.89 SO/9 for the season don’t suggest bad luck was the motivating force either. But, as last season progressed, Bonderman dramatically increased the number of ground balls he allowed – mainly at the expense of line drives. Theory suggests this should have both improved his BABIP and his ERA. Yet the opposite happened, especially in July:
Now, I should add that Bonderman’s control also suffered, by Sept/Oct he was walking 5.5 batters per nine. But I think there’s a reason for all this noise in the numbers. After May, the Tigers began to be beset by injuries. These injuries decimated the team and resulted in a far worse defense taking the field, particularly in the infield. Bonderman understandably became more reluctant to throw strikes that would be put in play given the defense behind him, resulting in the higher walk numbers. Unsurprisingly, Bonderman’s SIERA was only 4.60, nearly a full run lower than his ERA. This suggests he will pitch far better in 2011, when he’ll also be one more year removed from injury.
The only other name that intrigues me is Kevin Millwood. Millwood is yet another guy who on the surface wasn’t very good last year. His ERA was 5.10, he walked more than 3 batters per 9, he’s getting older, and he lost a mile per hour off both his fastball and his slider last season. But, there are some reasons to be encouraged as well. His SO/9 was actually up last year to 6.23 and he did have a .322 BABIP. The year before, pitching for Texas, his BABIP was .279 (lucky to be sure) and his resulting ERA was 3.67. There’s also this:
Two things should jump out. First, Millwood got extremely unlucky in June and July (not coincidentally when the O’s have admitted they basically quit before Buck took over) and struggled. Further, despite pitching much better on the road, his results were actually worse. That is to say, he was extremely unlucky when pitching away from Camden Yards (a notorious hitters park). Millwood isn’t a great pitcher, but he isn’t anywhere near as bad as he appeared last year. His SIERA of 4.55 is a closer estimate to his real performance, and even that might understate his true talent level. Further, Millwood, more so than any of the other guys the Mets are considering is a true innings-eater.
All of this is to say that with a relatively small investment, the Mets should be able to field a decent rotation in 2011, without committing major dollars for beyond. Is it “R2C2?” No. But in Citi Field it just might suffice.