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December 8, 2007
  
Searching for a 5th Starter: In House Version

With the winter meetings over and having not landed that much sought after ace starter, Omar and the Mets are left keeping warm through the winter with the same potential starters as were available to them at the end of the season (minus Glavine, of course).  This is not a horrible thing.  Two of them are young and improving (Maine and Perez), one of them is ageless if injury prone (El Duque), and the fourth guaranteed starter is the amazing Pedro who, over a year after major surgery, will probably improve a little over his already impressive September 2007 return.

But what of the fifth starter?

There are free agents available that could very easily fit the bill of fifth starter, an innings eater that keeps you in games but, nevertheless, isn’t expected to achieve much more than a .500 record.  These names include Silva, Hernandez, Colon, Kuroda, and other non-inspiring choices.  But what if the Mets, similarly to last season’s choice, decide to fill that rotation spot cheaply and from within?

This is a fine idea.  I certainly wouldn’t mind a homegrown player making good at the major league level and the choices are intriguing ones:  giving Pelfrey another shot, letting Humber try it out, or pushing Mulvey a little and seeing if he’s got what it takes.  What worries me is the technique used to select the winner.  Here were the statistics for last year’s 5th spot hopefuls:

Pelfrey 5.48 ERA 6 games 4 starts, 23 IP, 33 hits, 3 walks, 5 K’s

Vargas  2.57 ERA 3 games 1 start, 7 IP, 7 hits, 3 walks, 6 K’s

Sele  5.79 ERA 6 games 4 starts, 18.2 IP, 25 hits, 4 walks, 7 K’s

Park  5.89 ERA 7 games 5 starts, 18.1 IP, 17 hits, 9 walks, 23 K’s

Sosa  8.53 7 games 0 starts, 12.2 IP, 20 hits, 3 walks, 8 K’s

Unfortunately, I think it was pretty clear that there wasn’t a really tight horserace here as none of the candidates were particularly impressive.  Sele was awful (but somehow won a bullpen spot).  Sosa was pretty bad as well.

So that left Vargas, Park, and Pelfrey as seemingly the only choices that remained.  Now, from what I recall, Pelfrey essentially had the job won after his second start.  His numbers were not quite so impressive however (his last start skewed his ERA which was under 3.00 before that) and became a forecast as to how Pelfrey would perform in the 2007 season (not well). 

 The key numbers to look at are these:
Pelfrey 23 IP, 33 hits, 3 BB, 5 K, 3 HBP, 1.70 WHIP, 1.67 K/BB
Park 18.1IP, 17 hits, 9 BB, 23 K, 1 HBP, 1.49 WHIP, 2.56 K/BB
Vargas 7 IP, 7 hits, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HBP, 1.57 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB

 Let let me start with the caviat that, in hindsight, we know the trainwrecks that Park and Vargas were to become and, regardless of how Pelfrey pitched last season, he still outpitched Park and Vargas in their brief major league stints.  What I’m concerned with here is Willie’s ability to evaluate pitching based on spring training performances.

Of those three starters, Pelfrey is the worst in every major category.  He couldn’t buy a strikeout and gave up hits at an alarming regularity.  Compare this is Park who had the best WHIP of the three, had the highest strikeout rate, and was hardest to hit (though he did have a high walk rate of 4.48 per nine countered by the best K/BB ratio).  Compare this further to Vargas who also had lower WHIP, higher strikeout rate.  I can’t remember why Vargas was limited to so few appearances because he obviously seemed like a good candidate (I can’t find any indications of injury during ST) so if anyone knows why he wasn’t given more of a chance, let me know.

My point in this brief glimpse is this:  if the Mets are going to run into  a similar situation this coming spring training where they are auditioning arms for the 5th spot in the rotation, I worry about the criteria Willie will use to select that pitcher.  Based on this preliminary look at the three main candidates for the 2007 spot, it’s clear Willie went with the lesser of the three and the results were predictable:  Pelfrey doesn’t miss enough bats yet and, when they do make contact, they often fall in for hits.  If and when Willie chooses his 2008 5th starter from the likes of Pelfrey, Humber, and Mulvey, I hope he reevaluates his approach and looks a little bit deeper than ERA.

Of course, if we sign Silva, I’ll have something else entirely to complain about.


11 Responses to “Searching for a 5th Starter: In House Version”

  1. Comment posted by NYNarwhal on December 8, 2007 at 6:52 pm (#575751)

    I was getting excited last night about the idea of giving Heilman another shot at the rotation. If somehow Braden Looper can morph into a viable starter, why not Heilman?
    If Duaner Sanchez comes back healthy, and the Mets get someone who doesn’t suck (Octavio Dotel), they could easily cover the loss in the bullpen. In fact, it would be mildly creative and possibly very beneficial to try Pelfrey and/or Humber in a short-relief role.

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  3. Comment posted by Simons on December 8, 2007 at 10:42 pm (#575821)

    It is hard to evaluate talent in spring training; it’s a crap shoot. I think they should just give the job to Pelfrey, who looked better as the year wore on. We’ll see.

  4. Comment posted by Gus Gloom on December 9, 2007 at 10:52 am (#575865)

    Vargas was injured at the end of the season, will he be ready for ST?

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  6. Comment posted by Lunkwill Fook on December 9, 2007 at 11:05 am (#575870)

    Even if he’s ready for spring training, I think they’ll definitely plan on letting him regain his strength at AAA regardless of how he pitches in ST.

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  8. Comment posted by MetsFanSince71 on December 10, 2007 at 9:13 am (#576073)

    Very good journal, Lunk!

    I was getting excited last night about the idea of giving Heilman another shot at the rotation. If somehow Braden Looper can morph into a viable starter, why not Heilman?

    There is just no way in my mind that Heilman will ever, ever be moved out of the bullpen as a NY Met….he’s just too important as a setup guy….in his case, I have to agree with the Mets on this one.

  9. Comment posted by john on December 10, 2007 at 9:14 am (#576075)

    The problem is Willie (and most other managers) I dont think understand the concept of small sampling. You simply cannot say ok there’s 5 pitchers whichever one pitches the best during ST, gets the spot. Not only do you run into small samples, but alot of times with pitching, you might not be facing the opposing teams best hitters as they are trying to see who makes the team and who doesnt.

    Instead, the determination should be based on how they have done thoughtout their careers (with more emphasis on the previous ones).

  10. Comment posted by JamesSC on December 10, 2007 at 5:36 pm (#576707)

    Let let me start with the caviat that, in hindsight, we know the trainwrecks that Park and Vargas were to become and, regardless of how Pelfrey pitched last season, he still outpitched Park and Vargas in their brief major league stints. What I’m concerned with here is Willie’s ability to evaluate pitching based on spring training performances.

    Man, geeks the world over will never miss a chance to drum up any hair brained reason to bash Willie. I am sorry, but ST has nothing to do with stats, especially for a pitcher, it is about how your pitches are moving and if you make the pitches you want to pitch. Also, in Pelfrey’s case it has to do with where they are, anyone who would have put in Park or Vargas over Pelfrey in ST should have been shot.

    We actually *gasp* gave a shot to a kid to see if he could rise to the occaision (even though most here seem to think we never do that). I know it is fun to come up with a new way to bash Omar and Willie every day, but this one is just downright silly to me.

  11. Comment posted by JamesSC on December 10, 2007 at 5:39 pm (#576711)

    PS. I don’t mean to be rude about that (I realized some of my terms were a bit strong), but maybe the problem isn’t that Willie didn’t use the right stats, but that you are focused too much on them (I mean 16 innings of ST results and you are focusing on WHIP???????).

    To others the fact that Pelfrey pitched better than the other two would be a good sign that Willie DOES use the right reasons to decide which one to put in, for you it is something to ignore…

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  13. Comment posted by Lunkwill Fook on December 11, 2007 at 2:15 pm (#577082)

    I agree we’re dealing with small sample sizes here and I’m not suggesting that these stats would continue throughout, say, a spring training lasting two months but I think it’s important, regardless, to interpret what these stats, small as they are, suggested. They suggesting Pelfrey wasn’t missing bats. That’s important, especially for a kid that is learning the profession. They suggested Park WAS missing bats but having control problems. That’s important. They also suggested Vargas was pitching relatively well, missing bats, but was not getting a chance (don’t forget, he’s a “kid” too).

    I don’t normally bash Willie and this wasn’t meant to annhilate him but to question what he looks for in a starter in ST. Is he looking for pure velocity? Is he looking for control? Is he looking for the ability to miss bats? Clearly he was impressed with Pelfrey’s control and his fastball which is why he made his decision so early (as I said, I recall he pretty much had decided after Pelfrey’s 2nd or 3rd start). But why not give Vargas more of a chance? Why not give Park some MLB starts and let Pelfrey have some time in the minors to learn to avoid some contact? These are the questions I’m asking.

    Obviously, in the end, Willie actually ended up making the “right” choice, if there can be a right choice after looking at their final results (Pelfrey, though he pitched relatively poorly, did pitch a HECK of a lot better than the other two).

    But, then again, what is spring training if we can’t overanalyze the HECK out of small sample sizes? :)

  14. Comment posted by JamesSC on December 11, 2007 at 2:22 pm (#577086)

    I think part of the “problem” if you Willie’s choice is that I don’t think they all came in with a even chance. The difference is, that was Pelfrey’s spot to lose last year, where this year that definitely won’t be the case. So when Pelfrey came out and did what we wanted him to do early in ST, Willie gave him that vote of confidence that he could start prepping for the season rather than trying to get a quarterback controversy brewing in ST to try to pressure them into it.

    I also think from sample sizes, it is interesting that the one with by far the worst ST in Sosa was easily the most valuable of the set in the long run (obviously much later in the season).

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  16. Comment posted by Lunkwill Fook on December 11, 2007 at 2:50 pm (#577110)

    I agree. Personally, due to the small sample sizes, I think spring training stats are most useful in trying to determine what to work on. In Park’s case, you try to get Park to end ST with better control. In Pelfrey’s case, you pay attention to whether the strikeout rate starts rising by the end of ST. I think that’s what had me worried in the first place with Pelfrey: he never managed to take that step in ST.

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