military_defenseThis is my  second installment of a three part series titled, "Mets Need" where I’ll be discussing the Mets needs and suggesting how to address those needs.In case you missed it last week, in Mets Need: Defense!, I argued that the Mets need to improve the team by acquiring  good fielders like Mike Cameron, Lyle Overbay, Placido Polanco and Rod Barajas.johan-santanaIn addition to improving Defense, the Mets need to improve their pitching. As GravediggerHebner discussed last week in Let's Talk About # 2, the Mets need an ace type pitcher to slot behind Johan Santana. What I'll attempt to do here is begin the discussion on what makes a good pitcher and how to improve the Mets pitching.So to Fred and Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya and the rest of the Mets Leadership, I say, "Mets Need Pitching!"For the full article, click on the link below. See you after the jump. <!--more-->First, the Mets need to move heaven and earth to get free agent pitching coach extraordinaire, Dave Duncan.
Duncan has expressed displeasure over the way his son Chris, a Cardinals outfielder who was traded to Boston earlier this summer, had been treated in the news media, and he ceased speaking to the St. Louis-area newspapers. He did take time to speak to an out-of-town reporter and pondered for a moment the notion that the highly successful partnership he and La Russa forged during the 1980s might soon be disbanded.
duncanxWhy? New York Times reporter David Waldstein does a great job of breaking down what Duncan has been able to do in St. Louis:
  • Before joining the Cardinals, Smoltz had what he termed the worst four-game stretch of his career, giving up 35 hits and 25 earned runs in 20 innings with the Red Sox. Since joining forces with Duncan, he has allowed one run in 11 innings and struck out 15.
  • Before joining the Cardinals in 2004, Chris Carpenter was one game under .500 with the Toronto Blue Jays and his earned run average was 4.83. In the six years since he began working with Duncan, Carpenter is 42 games over .500 with an E.R.A. less than 3.00 and owns a Cy Young Award (one of four pitchers to win the award under Duncan).
  • Before joining the Cardinals, Wainwright was a game under .500 with an E.R.A. approaching 5.00 in three mediocre years at Class AAA. In five years with Duncan, he has developed into one of the league’s best pitchers and is now 16-7 with a 2.47 E.R.A.
  • One of Duncan’s more famous reclamation projects was Darryl Kile, who was 21-30 with a 5.84 E.R.A. in two years in Colorado. In his first year in St. Louis, Kile rebounded to 20-9 with a 3.91 E.R.A., and before he died in 2002, he had compiled a 41-24 record under Duncan.
  • Kyle Lohse endured four straight seasons with a losing record and never had an E.R.A. under 4.18 before coming to St. Louis in 2008. In his first year with Duncan, Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 E.R.A.
Imagine what Duncan can do for Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine. How good would the team's pitching be if  Perez  walked less batters,  if Maine produced more ground balls, or if Pelfrey  struck out more batters?Of course,  I'm not holding my breath in the hopes that  the Mets do lure Duncan to Queens (though I may talk to a certain bagel guy near Citi Field). Instead, let's focus on other ways to improve the team pitching, specifically looking at what type of pitchers the Mets should be targeting and which ones are available.This article in Baseball Time in Arlington takes a look at the three most important pitching stats in predicting major league success.  In order of importance, they are  strikeout, walk rate and groundball/flyball ratio. Stikeouts are worth more from a pitching perspective  because it is a guaranteed out. Ground  balls are four times as valuable as fly balls because "fly balls are more likely to go for extra base hits and ground balls are more likely to produce double plays."
The difference in ERA between a high strikeout-low walk/ground ball pitcher and a low strikeout-high walk/fly ball pitcher is substantial (3.15 vs. 5.90). Assuming similar walk and GB/FB rates, the difference between a strikeout pitcher (9.0 K/9) and a non-strikeout pitcher (5.0 K/9) is nearly 1.5 runs per game. Assuming similar strikeout and walk rates, the difference between a fly ball pitcher (0.75 GB/FB) and a ground ball pitcher (2.00 GB/FB) is approximately 0.75 runs per game. Assuming similar strikeout and GB/FB rates, the difference between a pitcher with good control (2.0 BB/9) and relatively poor control (4.0 BB/9) is 0.6 runs per game.
As the chart from BBTIA shows, a poor pitcher in any of these three areas will greatly increase a player's ERA. A pitcher with a 7K/9 , 3BB/9 and 1.00 GB/FB projects to a league average 4.50 ERA. Highlighted in orange are other combinations that will produce the same result. Bolded in black from left to right are the approximate projected ERAs for Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine. Oliver Perez is literally off the charts.
Let's take a look at how the current rotation compares over the past three years:
Johan Santana0.928.522.34
Mike Pelfrey1.695.153.29
Oliver Perez0.658.574.98
John Maine0.897.793.93
omarminaya1There is much room for improvement in the Mets rotation. If Pelfrey could get two more strike outs per game, he'd project to a 4.17 ERA. If Oliver Perez walked only 3 batters per nine innings, he'd project to a 4.11 ERA. And if John Maine walked one less batter or increased his ground ball rate to 1.50, he'd project to a 4.50 ERA. Ideally, Omar Minaya & Co. will be able to add a pitcher or two who is accomplished in these areas. Below is a list of 2010 and 2011 Free Agents (minimum of 200 innings for the past 3 seasons) that fit into two of the three categories ( K/9 of >5K, a BB/9 of <4K and a GB/FB of >0.75):
Josh Beckett1.338.661.98
Erik Bedard1.169.963.33
Kelvim Escobar1.147.43.14
Randy Johnson1.068.82.38
John Lackey1.277.152.22
Brett Myers1.347.633.14
Carl Pavano1.146.101.87
Andy Pettitte1.446.562.91
John Smoltz1.178.862.11
Randy Wolf0.987.382.98
Bronson Arroyo1.056.362.80
Joe Blanton1.255.982.38
Jeff Francis1.206.492.81
Roy Halladay1.847.001.55
Aaron Harang0.867.902.26
Cliff Lee1.096.771.84
Jamie Moyer1.085.582.81
Javier Vazquez0.999.092.17
Brandon Webb3.087.302.68
j-lackeyObviously, the Red Sox aren't about to trade Beckett and the Phillies and Braves likely won't be sending any of their pitchers to the Mets. If I were Omar Minaya, I would be targeting Erk Bedard, Randy Johnson, John Lackey, Brett Myers, John Smoltz, Randy Wolf, Aaron Harang and Brandon Webb. Bedard had surgery in August for a torn labrum and may not be available for Opening Day but is the ideal buy low candidate. Randy Johnson returned from the 60 day DL in September and is also a high reward - low risk candidate. As Grave noted, Lackey is the perfect match for the Mets. John Smoltz has indicated he wants to return to pitch in the National League after regaining his form with the Cardinals. Randy Wolf may cost more than what the Mets could have paid him last year but like last year, he may still be job hunting after the New Year. Harang's $12.5M salary in 2010 would greatly reduce any potential trade but if he were packaged with Brandon Phillips the Reds could deal Harang as they attempt to reduce budget. The Diamondbacks picked up Webb's $8.5M option but Webb wouldn't consider an extension. Keep your eye on Webb for a mid-season trade.harang-aaron-cnr-1Pairing John Lackey with any of these pitchers would go a great way to improve the Mets rotation next year. Still though, the Mets do have prospects that could see their way to the rotation next year. Here's a look at how the Mets Starting Pitching prospects faired in 2009:
  • Bradley Holt (A+) 11.22 K/9, 2.70 BB/9 in 9 GS, (AA) 6.98 K/9, 3.57 BB/9 in 11 GS
  • Jonathan Niese (AAA) 7.82 K/9, 2.48 BB/9 in 16 GS, (Mets) 6.31 K/9, 3.16 BB/9 in 5 GS
  • Jenry Mejia (A+) 7.87 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 in 9 GS, (AA) 9.54 K/9, 4.67 BB/9 in 10 GS
  • Scott Moviel(A+) 6.44 K/9, 3.36 BB/9 in 13 GS
  • Dillon Gee (AAA) 7.82 K/9, 2.98 BB/9 in 9 GS
  • Angel Calero (A+) 7.80 K/9, 3.86 BB/9 in 22 GS
  • Michael Antonini (AA) 6.73 K/9, 2.66 BB/9 in 20 GS, (AAA) 7.36 K/9, 3.68 in 2 GS
Assignment: Which pitchers do you want for the Mets next season? (Please post your choice in the comments. We want to hear from you.)Stay tuned next week for the next installment of "Mets Need". And if you are on Facebook or Twitter, please become a fan or followThe Real Dirty Mets Blog. Let's Go Mets!