Grading the pitchers’ first half

Yesterday I did the hitters, today I’m tackling the pitchers.  Yes, this remains incredibly hacky.  I’m going to be taking a closer look at players, meaning I’m not using ERA alone (or really, at all) to look at how well they’ve performed; I’m going to look at their rate numbers (K/9, BB/9, etc) as well as some advanced statistics like FIP (again, if you aren’t hip to FIP, go to Amazin Avenue, where Sam Page, I have to say this again, wrote the best thing written on any Mets blog in 2009) to figure out who has made the grade and who hasn’t.

Johan Santana: B+

After two months, this would have been an easy A+.  Johan has had a rough stretch since the start of June, where his walk rate and strikeout rate have gone in opposite directions.  Through ten starts in the season’s first two months, Santana had struck out 86 batters and walked 20 in 66 innings, good for an 11.7 K/9 rate, a 2.7 BB/9 rate, and a 4.3 K/BB ratio.  Since the start of June, he has made eight starts, striking out 26 batters and walked 17 in 50.3 innings, good for a 4.6 K/9 rate, a 3.0 BB/9 rate, and a 1.5 K/BB ratio.  If you aren’t worried about this sudden and quite frankly, alarming dropoff, you’re crazy.

Mike Pelfrey: B

This might come as a surprise, but Big Pelf has been better than you think; his numbers are a bit skewed because the infield defense behind him is so poor.  One of the best things a starting pitcher can do is induce a ground ball, because a ground ball can only rarely go for extra bases, and behind the right defense, most ground balls will be converted into outs.  Unfortunately for Pelfrey, the Mets have put poor infield defense behind him for most of the season, so he’s been a little hit unlucky.  Still, there’s a lot to like here; he’s second on the team in walk rate, first among starters in GB/FB ratio and XBH%, and he rarely allows home runs (only six on the season).  I’d love to see some progress in improving the strikeout rate, which seems to be the only thing holding him back from becoming a true ace, but otherwise Big Pelf has been the team’s second best pitcher in 2009.

Francisco Rodriguez: C+

One inning relief pitchers are probably the most overrated players on a baseball team.  It’s one reason why Omar Minaya’s decision to devote so much money and players to acquiring two one-inning relievers was such a poor decision this past off-season, and part of the reason this team is in the hole it’s in now.  Was the bullpen a disaster last year?  Of course it was.  But throwing money at free agents and trading valuable commodities within your organization to acquire “proven closers” to use as 8th inning relievers is not the best way to fix a bullpen.

Has Frankie been good in his role?  Absolutely.  But his role is overrated.  He has not given the Mets nearly as much value as his contract would dictate he should be, and it’s because of the limitations of that role.  That said, his strikeout rate has been good, but continues the decline that started in 2004, his walk rate has been lousy (5.3 BB/9), and these are numbers that should be improving by facing the National League.  He’s probably been a bit hit lucky so far as well.  Unless he improves the strikeout and walk rates over the second half, don’t be surprised to see him take a second half nose dive.  He has not been as great as you think.

Livan Hernandez: C+

And this one has potential to drop in a hurry.  As recently as a month ago, Livan would have probably been in the B-B+ range, but he’s since reverted to being Livan Hernandez again thanks to a pesky inability to keep runners off base.  Livan was probably hurt more by Beltran’s absense than anybody, as he is a flyball, “pitch to contact” pitcher who needs good outfield defense behind him to survive since he no longer strikes batters out.  There’s a good chance that he is going to be DFA’d by August to make room for Jon Niese.

Bobby Parnell: C+

Parnell’s rough June makes his ERA look bad, but he’s been a good reliever so far.  Consider this: Parnell is second among relievers in K/9 to Frankie, and his BB/9 ratio is lower and their HR rates are around even (though Frankie’s XBH% is slightly lower than Parnell’s).  They have an identical line drive percentage, with Parnell’s ground ball rate being a touch higher than Frankie’s.  The difference between Parnell and Frankie:  Parnell has allowed 36 singles in 35 innings, Frankie has allowed 21 singles in 42.7 innings.  Parnell is getting dinked and dunked to death, and a lot of that is bad luck.  With a little bit better luck in the second half, Parnell might be just as valuable a pitcher as Frankie by season’s end, and at a fraction of the cost.

Pedro Feliciano: C+

Feliciano has been terrific in his role as lefty specialist, and while he isn’t excelling against righties, it isn’t asking a lot of him to ask him to retire the occasional right handed hitter either.  He’s excelling by showing better control out there; his walk rate, should he maintain it, would be the lowest of his career.  The bad news is, he’s probably gotten hit lucky so far, and that could come back to bite him in the second half, especially with the defense the Mets are trotting out there until Beltran and Reyes return.

Sean Green: C

Ignore the high ERA; Green has been better than you think.  His 1.94 K/BB ratio is second in the bullpen behind Feliciano, his 7.2 K/9 ratio is third in the bullpen, and his ridiculous 1.77 GB/FB ratio is best on the team.  It’s something of a minor miracle that he’s allowed 4 homers this season, considering how many worm killers he’s induced (his HR/FB% is second on the team to Pedro Feliciano).  I think he’s another prime candidate, along with Bobby Parnell, for a second half resurgence.

Fernando Nieve: C-

Nieve, like Livan, is a pitcher who is most likely about to go “BOOM” in a hurry.  He made a few fine starts, including a nice one I saw live in New York against Tampa Bay (by the way, I’ve been to three Mets games this year.  The starters?  Nieve, Livan, and Oliver Perez.  Lovely).  But the thing that stands out about Nieve is that he hasn’t been hit lucky (his batting average on balls in play is .292) but run lucky.  For a guy who is walking four and a half batters per nine innings, allowing a hit per inning, a home run per nine innings, and only striking out 5.8 batters per nine innings, he’s been incredibly fortunate that he hasn’t allowed more runs.  Eventually, these things are going to come back to haunt him, and probably soon.  Basically, think Jorge Sosa in 2007.

John Maine: C-

We are now almost a season and a half removed from the last time John Maine was a good pitcher.  His 2007 was excellent; people remember the great start in the next to last game against the Marlins, but even before that Maine gave this team a healthy 8.5 strikeout per nine ratio, a decent walk rate of 3.5 per nine, and all of this over 191 innings.  I’m not sure if it’s the workload that got him, but since then he has regressed; his K/9 rate dropped to 7.8 in 2008 and has plunged to 6.1 in 2009, while his BB/9 rate has rose from 4.3 in 2008 to 5.0 in 2009, with injuries limiting him to 140 innings last year, and only 61.7 innings to start the 2009 season.  We are entering what should be Maine’s prime, and he’s not going in the right direction.  Color me concerned.

Brian Stokes: C-

I’m not exactly sure how Stokes does it.  His peripherals aren’t good (4.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 1.33 K/BB).  He doesn’t get a high percentage of ground balls like Green (0.79 GB/FB), despite having the reputation for having a hard sinking action to his fastball.  He doesn’t appear to be particularly hit lucky or hit unlucky (.301 BABIP).  The best thing you can say about Stokes is that he doesn’t let inherited runners score very often, which I guess is something.  It looks like most of Stokes’ success could be chalked up to being the least leveraged reliever on the team according to Baseball Prospectus (the only relievers listed below him are pitchers like Casey Fossum and Pat Misch, who have not pitched many innings).  If the team increases his role in the second half, unless his rates improve, he could be in for a heavy collapse.

J.J. Putz: D

In retrospect, I was wrong.  This trade was a disaster.  Before Putz was mercifully placed on the disabled list (after the Mets ignored his lowered velocity and strikeout rate for a solid month), he had as many strikeouts as walks (19).  His strikeout rate had plunged, which is pretty important for a strikeout pitcher, and his walkrate ballooned, also important for a pitcher who at his best walks fewer than two batters per nine innings.  Now he’s on the disabled list, hoping to come back in time to get some decent innings to impress potential teams for 2010 after the Mets decline his option.  Congratulations J.J., you’re now Billy Wagner.

Tim Redding: D-

It’s hard to figure out what exactly is wrong with Tim Redding.  He is getting wrecked at Citi Field, having given up eleven doubles and six homers at home this season, versus nine doubles, one triple, and two homers on the road.  Yet his strikeout and walk rates are much better at home than they are on the road (6.6 K/9 and 2 BB/9 at home, 5.2 K/9 and 5.9 BB/9 on the road), which has led to 23 runs allowed in 27.3 innings at home, and 18 runs allowed in 24.3 innings on the road.  He has been two different pitchers home and away, and neither pitcher has been very good.  He’s now in the bullpen, and maybe he can straighten things out there, because I suspect he will be asked to make another few starts before the season is out.

Oliver Perez: F—

That’s right, I’m giving Oliver Perez an F triple-minus.  Not just because he’s sucked, but because of how he’s sucked.  He’s walked more batters than he’s pitched innings, which is truly an accomplishment.  He’s given up ten extra base hits in those 26.7 innings.  Ever since he signed that $36 million contract in the offseason, he has seemingly forgotten how to retire batters.  Watching Oliver Perez this season has been a truly horrifying experience; because of the walks, the games take forever, and whenever Perez teeters on the edge, the game slows to a crawl.  Pitchers like Oliver Perez are why people call the game of baseball boring.  Congratulations Luis Castillo, you have been replaced for the worst contract on this team, thanks in part to your own first half, but also thanks to the performance of Oliver Perez.

Ken Takahashi, Jonathan Niese, Pat Misch, Elmer Dessens, Casey Fossum, Nelson Figueroa, Jon Switzer, Darren O’Day: Incomplete

None of thse guys pitched enough innings to receive a full grade.  Some quick hits:

  • Takahashi was a perfectly acceptable garbage time/long reliever type, who was used as a lefty specialist despite an inability to retire lefties.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him again this season, even if he isn’t particularly good.
  • Niese has been tearing up Buffalo, and will be in the major league rotation soon enough.  He’s better than Livan Hernandez, Fernando Nieve, or Oliver Perez right now.
  • Misch has been intriguing so far.  He’s probably not a bad second lefty option.
  • I can’t believe Elmer Dessens has pitched for the Mets in 2009.
  • I can’t believe Casey Fossum has pitched for the Mets in 2009.
  • Figgy pitched a thoroughly average start against the Brewers (the type of right-handed dominant team he should pitch well against).  He’s probably best used in the majors as a right-handed reliever, but this team has plenty of those already.  Despite what you read, he’s organizational filler.
  • Switzer will not be remembered fondly around here thanks to the Yankee series.
  • I can’t believe that they released Darren O’Day, who has been terrific for the Rangers.  They released him to get one start out of Figgy when Big Pelf was complaining of a dead arm.  I would have liked to have seen them try something creative to keep O’Day around, but this is not a very creative organization so it shouldn’t surprise me that they didn’t.

So to recap:

  • No A’s (not even from Johan)
  • Two B’s
  • Eight C’s
  • Two D’s
  • One F—
  • Eight incompletes

Sounds about right.  All of these guys are begging for Beltran and Reyes to come back soon to help them look better than they are, with the ground ball guys like Green and Pelfrey hoping for Reyes to remove them of the likes of Alex Cora at SS and the fly ball guys wanting Beltran back to corral some fly balls.  Overall, for a team whose strength is supposed to be pitching, and that plays in what is supposed to be one of the strongest pitcher’s parks in the game, they are tenth in the NL in runs allowed, which is the reason for so many disappointing grades, in spite of better performance out of the bullpen.  This team needs a strong return from John Maine, and they need Oliver Perez to stop being an F— if they are serious about contending.  It’s not just about getting healthy on offense, they are going to need better pitching in order to survive.

7 Responses to “Grading the pitchers’ first half”

  1. tjv101 says:

    You are some tough critic I must admit but most of your assessments are completely legit…but not all. First, though I am terrified that Johan isn’t striking out people anymore. He started of hot as a firecracker the first two months of the season and looked like the most dominating pitcher in baseball. It was interesting to see the dropoff numbers. However, most people would say that he is a second half pitcher so lets cross our fingers, he’s not hurt…or unhappy.

    I must completely disagree with you about K-ROD. ERA is 1.90 (which is almost half a point below is average…which is still good). 23/26 Saves isn’t shabby especially when that number should be 24. He flat out blew it against the Pirates and Orioles only this season in those 2 other save changes (not counting Castillo’s blunder). Mets fans knew from the start he’s rarely going to have a 1-2-3 9th inning but thats ok because his pitches are so filthy that he’s gonna get out of it most of the time. Oh yeah, averaging a K and inning isn’t too bad either. How do you give him a C ? Also, they didn’t overpay for him. He’s making $12 million a year getting the job done almost every time and your gonna get mad because he’s walking too many people? He’s one of the elite closers in the game and right on par money wise. I think they actually got him pretty reasonably. The rest of the bullpen Manuel plays around with almost daily. I think once Putz went down, he wanted Parnell to step in but couldn’t do it. Then tried his hand at Feliciano which then started to fall apart. Then Sean Green, then Brian Stokes. Now it’s just whoever the heck he has a hunch for since the Mets still don’t have a good pen beside Rodriguez.

  2. Chris Wilcox says:

    I’m going to list three mystery pitchers’ rate stats below. Two of them I discussed above so they should be easy to find, but one is a surprise. Rank these pitchers 1 through 3:

    Pitcher 1: 8.9 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 0.51 GB/FB, 3.9 XBH%
    Pitcher 2: 8.0 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 0.76 GB/FB, 4.9 XBH%
    Pitcher 3: 10.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 0.63 GB/FB, 3.9 XBH%

    You know whose rates look the best? Pitcher 3. You know who that is? Hint: he signed a two year, $17.5 million contract with a club option for a third season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or $20 million less than the Mets signed K-Rod (Pitcher 1) and about $36 million less than they will pay Bobby Parnell (Pitcher 2) in that same time period. Yes, K-Rod is overpaid.

    I didn’t use ERA here, particularly with relief pitchers, because it really doesn’t tell you how well a pitcher pitched. You have to look at things like strikeouts, walks, home runs, and in all of those categories, K-Rod has shown decline this season. He hasn’t been that good, and frankly had no business being on the All Star team (then again, relief pitchers in general shouldn’t be All Stars).

  3. tynian16 says:

    Because starters rarely go more than 6 innings anymore, relievers are very valuable. How do you think Yankee fans have felt all these years with Mariano coming out in the 9th? It’s nice to know that 95% of the time or whatever the rate is, you are going to win the game. And now that the yanks haven’t had a reliable bullpen in about 5 years, those later innings become a bit messier. K Rod has done exactly what the Mets have paid him to do and what they didn’t have at all last year.

  4. tjv101 says:

    You probably should have used ERA because thats the most important number of all. If you come into a game in a save situation, you probably do not want to give up runs hence you may not earn the save. (Pretty rational thinking I assume). ERA certainly can tell you how good a pitcher pitched. If K-Rod’s ERA is sub 2, then he’s getting the job done. His SV/SVO is very good and deserves to be better. Is it alarming that he averages a K an inning only now? Not really. Its still the first half of the season and when his team begins to get healthier in August, he should get more chances to save games as he has in years past. Do we really want to compare apples and oranges. The only real difference between Fuentes and K-Rod this year is Fuentes is averaging slighly more than a K/IP and has walked less batters than K-Rod. I would much rather have a guy that saves a heck of a lot more games on my team that Fuentes. K-Rod has saved 227 saves since 2005 compared to Fuentes 157 (including this year). Can you give the guy some praise for getting all that work in and still being pretty dominant and having so many more appearances in save situations meaning more work. Let’s not forget Fuentes’ shitty 3.40 career ERA (3.23 this year) compared to K-Rod’s 2.31 (1.90 in 09). You remember ERA right, that thing you like to omit from your stats?

  5. Chris Wilcox says:

    ERA does not necessarily say how well a pitcher has pitched. You gloss over strikeouts and walks like this is unimportant; it shows that Fuentes has been a better pitcher than K-Rod, at less than half the cost. Even if you go by saves (which is not the best way to compare pitchers), Fuentes has more saves than Frankie. He hasn’t been that good this year, and if he continues to pitch as well as he has through the first half, if he doesn’t pick up the strikeouts and drop the walks, he’s going to get bombed in the second half. I don’t feel nearly as safe with him as you guys.

  6. Chris Wilcox says:

    I’m going to put this another way. Would you rather have:

    Option A: Oliver Perez (3 years/$36 million, annual salary $12 million) and Frankie Rodriguez (3 years/$37 million, annual salary $12.3 million, plus fourth year option) for $24.3 million for years 1, 2, and 3, $73 million in total value, $15 in year 4 if Frankie hits playing time incentives, pushing the deal up to $85 million in total value
    Option B: Derek Lowe (4 years/$60 million, annual salary $15 million) and Brian Fuentes (2 years/$17 million, annual salary $9.5 million) for a total of $24.5 million for years 1 and 2, and $15 million for years 3 and 4, $77 million in total value

    Now, obviously year 4 of the Lowe contract is going to be a little hard to swallow in his age 39 season. But considering that Oliver Perez is already a bust in year 1 of his contract in his age 27 season…I mean, that’s not a good sign. Plus, you’re paying Frankie Rodriguez $15 million in that 4th year anyway if he hits his playing time incentives, and if he doesn’t, that’s a good sign that the team has wasted $12.3 million in years 2 or 3. Overpaying for Frankie probably cost them Derek Lowe, and with Lowe and Fuentes, this is a much better team right now. You can’t deny that.

  7. brian mcnamee says:

    What !?!??!
    You give Santana a B and Pelfrey a B ????
    You’re high, right ?
    Pelfrey gives up 6 runs every outing.
    He walks 4 guys every 9 innings, while whiffing only 5.
    3 times this year he hasnt gotten out of the 4th inning !!
    Don’t blame the defense this time; Pelf’s era is 4.50.
    He’s a disappointment to me, not a B

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