Monday, January 23, 2006

Anna Benson, we hardly knew you...

I know I'm behind the action here, but some thoughts about the Kris Benson trade. With this deal, and the Jae Seo deal that preceded it, the Mets have jettisoned themselves of approximately 375 innings of reliable starting pitching for 2006. I'm not here to argue the wisdom of these moves, as much as talk about what Omar might have in mind for future moves.

Many people would like to disparage Benson for falling apart down the stretch last season, but if you want to insist on KILLING him for his bad August and September, you have to credit him for his June and July where he looked like an ace:
3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 72.1 ip, 17 bb, 37 k

No matter what you think of him and Seo, that's a lot of innings which would be, at worst, league average. So what are our options?

1 - Sign a starter. The only real option there is Jeff Weaver.
2 - Trade for a starter. At this point, doesn't seem likely, though Barry Zito's name has been thrown about.
3 - Fill the #5 position internally. This is the option that is being publicly held by Minaya and company.

Personally, I’d like Weaver, because we are the Mets and we have money to spend. Here is another starter who was once projected for great things, but never reached his level of expectation. As such, he has a bad reputation, one thats probably a little harsher than is justified.

Jeff Weaver had his best season ever last season and is only 29. For a quick primer on who this guy is, he was a first round pick (14th overall) for the Tigers way back in 1998. Immediately upon debuting in the minors, he destroyed everything in sight. His stats for his age 21 season in A ball were impressive: 25ip, 4er, 1bb, 33k. That's hilarious.

Next season, after (I am not joking) ONE start in AA, Jeff Weaver found himself at the major league level, getting knocked around by the AL Central. As far as I know, this is the first time in his career that Weaver hadn't dominated. In consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2002, he progressed like this:

22 - 5.55 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6.27 K/9
23 - 4.32 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.12 K/9
24 - 4.08 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 5.97 K/9
25 - 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 5.55 K/9

Then, midway through his age 25 season, he was dealt to the Yankees, and this is where the Weaver story begins to unravel. As you see, he has acquitted himself quite well for an American League pitcher given exactly 6 minor league starts. It's almost not fair.

In any event, at the tender age of 25, Weaver was thrust into the NY spotlight as the next great ace. He did decently in 2002, but the wheels fell off completely in 2003 when he posted a 5.99 ERA and was shown the door at the end of the year. He then picked up with the Dodgers and began the maturity process that I don't believe he was ever allowed to have.

He's always had good "stuff", as its called. Good sinking action on his fastball, good velocity, good off-speed pitches, but as you can tell, he has had some serious hiccups in his career. The last two seasons, however, it seems like Jeff may have been getting himself back on the "star" career path that he was intended for.

2004 - 220ip, 219h, 67bb, 153k, 1.30 WHIP, 4.01 ERA
2005 - 224ip, 220h, 43bb, 157k, 1.17 WHIP, 4.22 ERA

He strikes out a decent amount of guys, his control seems to be improving, and he's about as close to a lock for 200 innings as there is in baseball. As a matter of fact, judging by WHIP (which is walks+hits per innings pitched, for the uninitiated) last season was his best ever, even better than his half season in Detroit. What else is there to like?

-He was 26th in the NL in Component ERA… or approximately a #2/#3 starter in the NL.
-He had 21 Quality Starts, or 62% of the time. That number was tied for 16th in the league with John Smoltz and Brett Myers. The only Met pitchers to have more were Glavine and Martinez, who each had 23.
-Although he allowed a ton of home runs last season, he has allowed 1.01 HR/9 for his career (which already has spanned 1300+ innings) which makes his 1.40 HR/9 last season a likely outlier.
-Also of note, Weaver has a .305 OBA last season, while Benson’s was .306. I think we’d be fine replacing one with the other.

I honestly feel that Weaver would be a great addition to our rotation. Given the fact that it seems like the Mets are making a run at the postseason sooner rather than later, the approximate cost of 7-10 million for this season would be almost nothing when compared to the peace of mind it would give us.

The state of the Met rotation right now is shaky at best, poor at worst. Pedro is amazing, but there are always doubts about him. Tom Glavine is 40-years old and no guarantee. Steve Trachsel, who used to be Mr. Dependable, wrenched his back last season and only returned for the final month. Our fourth starter, Victor Zambrano, is much maligned, although I feel like he is a decent pitcher.

Having an extra guy in the rotation in Weaver would be a huge help, especially because then Aaron Heilman, who turned into a relief ace last season, wouldn't have to step into the rotation. As it stands right now, Heilman would occupy the 5th starter role - a role he has not proven that he can succeed in. Last seasons performance as a setup man for Braden Looper was nothing short of miraculous, and I personally would prefer to see him there.

Also, if we were to sign Weaver, it would make the mechanics of the whole trade we just made with Baltimore look THAT much better:

Trade: Mets - Benson + Julio + Maine
Signing: + Weaver
Mets + Julio + Maine, and switching out Benson for Weaver

We would essentially have acquired a 99-mph set up man in Julio and a prospect for nothing. That, my friends, is good business.

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