Note: The following article considers ‘earned runs’ only when discussing pitching, until the very end
June 1, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Johan Santana (57) waves to the crowd after throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field. Mets won 8-0. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
. The primary reason for this is that defensive impact is difficult to collectively assess. That said, since 2000, just under 8.09% of all runs scored have been unearned. The impact of defense was lowest in 2009, when 7.50% of runs were unearned, and highest in 2011 when 8.65% of runs were unearned. Last year, that number was 8.27%. For the Mets it was 8.18%.
On paper, the Mets have a 80% of a good rotation. Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, and Dillon Gee represent four quality arms (especially if Santana can remain healthy), but most stories surrounding the Amazin’s rotation highlight the loss of former mountain climber and Hemingway enthusiast R.A. Dickey, who was traded to Toronto for prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Becerra.
Sandy Alderson has made it known that the Mets are in the market for a starting pitcher to round out their rotation, and is willing to sign a free agent or make a trade, should either avenue present sufficient value. As Alderson has put it, the Mets will not be looking for someone for the front of the rotation, but someone who can slot in somewhere 3-5 and throw a lot of effective innings and help minimize the effect that the absence of Dickey’s 233 innings would have on the bullpen.
Looking at ESPN’s MLB team pitching stats (Link) we see that Met starting pitchers threw 975.1 innings last season with a 3.83 ERA (which rank 13th and 11th, respectively). Below is a chart summarizing how they got those numbers:
We know that Niese, Santana, Gee, and Harvey will be part of the rotation next year. Dickey, of course, is a Blue Jay, and Chris Young is still a free agent. To analyze how big an impact Dickey’s absence will have, we need to start by looking at what the four pitchers listed above should provide. Taking a look at Bill James‘ projections for them (a la Fangraphs), we have the following start:
July7, 2012; Flushing, NY,USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The first thing we can note is that the non-Dickey rotation is projected to be much better this year. This is primarily due to the fact that Harvey/Niese/Santana/Gee are all projected to provide a full season’s workload. If they can stay healthy, it seems the rotation actually could improve. To match the innings total, they would have to average just under 5 innings in those remaining 48 starts.
Where it gets harder to improve is the ERA mark. Expecting a 3.89 ERA out of what projects to be a fifth starter and some assortment of injury / trade / spot replacement is less than likely. However, let’s look at who’s on the market, and what impact they’re expected to have next year.
A post today on MetsBlog currently links the Mets to Young and other free agents Shaun Marcum, Carl Pavano, and Joe Saunders. It also mentions that the Dodgers are willing to trade either Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang. Here’s how they project for 2013:
August 22, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey (33) throws a pitch during the first inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Knowing Alderson’s history as the Mets’ GM, he is much more likely to sign one of the four free agents than make a trade, as the pricetags on both Capuano ($6 million in 2013, $6M/$1M buyout in 2014) and Harang ($7 million in 2013, $7M/$2M buyout in 2014) are high for aging players who don’t provide a significant improvement relative to what’s on the market.Eliminating them, we’re left with Marcum, Pavano, Young, and Saunders. Looking subjectively at the snapshots provided above (as well as their career statistics), Marcum would probably be the best-case scenario here, and Pavano the worst. Chris Young and Joe Saunders would both fall somewhere in the middle, with Saunders being more reliable and Young – who put together his longest healthy stretch since 2007 – being a higher-risk, higher-reward option.
Let’s take a look at how the potential acquisitions impact the starting pitching numbers. The chart below has the projected stats for Marcum, Young, and Saunders. For each of the three, it also includes a conservative projection for the remaining starts, based on the rate of the starters grouped as ‘OTHERS’ above (I tried as best as I could to emulate their production in terms of innings/start and ERA):
July 17, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; New York Mets pitcher Jon Niese (49) pitches in the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. The Nationals defeated the Mets 5 – 4 in 10 innings. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
From what we can see here, the best-case scenario on these acquisitions is somewhat positive. Let’s make a few assumptions about next year, and see what happens:
1. Let’s assume the bullpen doesn’t change – regardless of innings pitched, they will collect a 4.65 ERA, rounded to the nearest whole number of runs.2. Let’s assume the total number of innings doesn’t change. The Mets pitched 1433 innings last year, so they’ll pitch 1433 innings next year.
3. (Already made): Whoever starts for the Mets outside of the five listed above (Santana/Harvey/Niese/Gee/Whoever they sign) will pitch to the same replacement ERA (noted as ‘OTHERS’): 5.26, rounded to the nearest whole number of runs.
This actually makes things somewhat fascinating. Based on those assumptions, let’s figure out how the bullpen will perform:
Now, if we add these to our run totals above, we can get some (very) rough numbers about how many runs the Mets will surrender next year:
Why is this interesting, you may ask? Well, if you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’re following along with me. In 2012, the Mets pitching staff gave up 651 earned runs. So, on the surface, it looks like while the Mets cannot replace Dickey’s individual value, they have at least a reasonable chance to collectively mitigate his loss.
Assuming the defense has the same impact as it did last year (see the beginning of this article for more info), the Mets should surrender somewhere between 712 and 725 runs total next year.
If the Mets offense can improve, which isn’t out of the question (I discussed the outfield here, and also offer the potential of a fully-productive season from Ike Davis and some improvement at the catcher position), there’s a chance that pitching won’t hurt them any worse than last year.