Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mets 2010 ZiPS Projections, Part 2: Pitching

In Part 2 of this series, I am going to take a look at Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for the 2010 New York Mets pitching staff.

[I broke down the hitters in Part 1]

First of all, let me just say that this is NOT a pretty set of projections. Unlike the hitters, who fared relatively well, the Mets pitching staff looks like an absolute wasteland. Time for Optimistic/Pessimistic/Just Right:

Too Optimistic
Francisco Rodriguez: 3.13 ERA, 72 IP, 37 bb, 88 k

I think this link tells you EVERYTHING you need to know about K-Rod. Of course, just because all of his stats have gotten worse for the last four years running doesn't necessarily mean that they will again this year -- but it's not a good sign. Simply put, there is no reason to believe that he is more likely to be 2006 K-Rod next year than a repeat of 2009 K-Rod. And 2009 K-Rod walked 5 batters per nine innings, had an ERA of 3.71, and had a WHIP of 1.31. u-g-l-y.

John Maine: 4.20 ERA, 122 IP, 57 bb, 103 k

Before John Maine's 7 inning, 7 strikeout performance against Houston on the third to last day of the season, a line like this would have seemed like complete fantasy. Now, however, there is at least a little reason for optimism. I still think he falls short of this goal, either because of ERA or innings. I have a hard time believing that his course of action last year will help the shoulder long term.

Jennry Mejia: 4.90 ERA, 75 IP, 44 bb, 55 k

Yep, believe it. According to ZiPS, our 20-year-old pitching prospect would be our fifth best starter next year if pressed into action at the major league level (behind Santana, Maine, Niese, and Pelfrey, but AHEAD of Perez). I think this is a little much. Mejia just finished putting up a 12 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, and has yet to throw a pitch above AA, where he posted a 4.47 ERA. I think the kid has a good chance to be a stud, but I doubt he can put up an 88 ERA+ this soon.

Too Pessimistic
Oliver Perez: 4.93 ERA, 142 IP, 87 bb, 132 k

Okay, I have a soft spot for Ollie. Maybe it's the fact that everyone gets on his case but he really seems like a nice guy who tries hard. And -- despite the ulcers -- he's not been a bad pitcher for us. In 2007 he was phenomenal, with a 3.56 ERA. And in 2008, he had a 3.56 ERA the final 2/3 of the season. Then, in a stretch of 13 starts stretching into September, he pitched 6 innings or more in every start. He might not be an ace, but he's been better than people give him credit for.

So 2009 was a lost season. He pitched in the WBC, came back out of shape, got injured, and struggled mightily. He has to come back this year and REALLY prove something to us. But it would be foolish of us to forget what he did in 2007 and 2008:

371 IP, 184 bb, 354 k, 3.91 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Instead of looking at what Ollie is not, let's look at what he is. If he comes back this year healthy and in shape, there is no reason to think he can't pitch to an ERA right around 4. And I think that is exactly what he will do.

Nelson Figueroa: 5.06 ERA, 131 IP, 46 bb, 91 k

Okay! I give up. I'm on the Figgy bandwagon. I for one doubt that gets the opportunity to pitch 131 innings for us this year, but facts are facts - he posted a 4.57 ERA for us in 2008 and a 4.09 ERA in 2009. He shredded AAA this season to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, and for his career, has a 3.49 ERA over a whopping 1,758 innings. Sure, some pitchers are Quad-A guys who never break through. But Figueroa has 115 innings in the majors as a Metropolitan and he hasn't looked bad. He won't be great, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him provide some servicable innings with around a 4.50 ERA.

Brian Stokes: 4.54 ERA, 81 IP, 38 bb, 56 k

Brian Stokes wins my 2009 Heath Bell Award, for the player that management wasted or misused the most. He appeared in games anywhere from the 4th to the 11th inning. He pitched on zero to six days rest. A closer look is also instructive.

There were FOUR appearances this year where Stokes gave up more than three runs -- one was on five days rest, and the other was on EIGHT days rest. Opponents OPS numbers against Brian on normal rest were miniscule - 680 with zero days, 681 with one day, 775 with two days, 706 with three days, 403 with four days. They balloon to 1418 with five days and 1058 with 6 or more days.

Brian put up a 3.51 ERA in 2008, and a 3.91 ERA in 2009. If he's used properly, Stokes and his 95 mph fastball ought to beat that projection handily. I'd project him around a 3.75 ERA if he were used regularly.

Mike Pelfrey: 4.86 ERA, 189 IP, 69 bb, 111 k

The thing about Mike Pelfrey that confuses me, is why everyone expects him to be good. He's never shown us anything. His best stretch ever was in 2006 in AA, when he posted a 2.71 ERA. The next year, in AAA, he was getting hit around at a 4.01 ERA and 1.35 WHIP pace. There was room for growth, but as a 23-year-old, he didn't have the makings of an ace.

I was glad when he broke through in 2008, but I wasn't really expecting it. The truth is, he was a little lucky in 2008 and a little unlucky in 2009. His tRA (a metric which is available on fangraphs and is explained here) has his tRA as 4.49 in '08 and 4.52 in '09. And all things considered -- like, with what we saw with our naked eyes -- Pelfrey was very much the same guy. The real difference between that year and this one was that more hits made it through the infield and less guys got stranded on base - his fastball was the same speed, he walked and struck out about exactly the same number of batters.

I see Pelfrey's luck turning again this year, at least back to average. A lot will depend what the Mets do with their infield defense (i.e. will Reyes be healthy? Will Castillo still be here?) but he is a better pitcher than he showed last year. In addition, he's got a year more of experience under his belt and he's a year further removed from his first season as a 200-inning workhorse. I think he'll be fine.

Just Right
Johan Santana: 3.23 ERA, 206 innings, 52 bb, 203 k
Jon Niese: 4.57 ERA, 143 IP, 55 bb, 103 k


Well, we're in trouble. Our rotation according to ZiPS (with ERA+ operating the same way as OPS+ ... 100 is average, above 100 is better):

Santana, 133 ERA+
Maine, 103 ERA+
Pelfrey, 89 ERA+
Perez, 88 ERA+
Niese, 95 ERA+

And our bullpen:

K-Rod, 138 ERA+
Feliciano, 110 ERA+
Green, 101 ERA+
Dessens, 98 ERA+
Stokes, 95 ERA+
Knight, 94 ERA+
Misch, 89 ERA+

We honestly have about three guys who can pitch on the entire staff. And I have no idea why the Mets as an entity, or the writers, or the blogosphere, are not worried about it. Granted, I am optimistic about Pelfrey, and Perez, and Stokes -- but luck can break both ways and there are reasons to be pessimistic about some of the better projections.

As 2009 demonstrated, we can't just depend on a superstar or two. Especially not when it comes to pitching. We are honestly one injury (Santana) and a continued regression (K-Rod) away from having ZERO pitchers who we can expect to be anywhere above league average.

This is why I think the Mets are more than a year away from contention, and this is what I'll address in Part 3.

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