The Mets have signed 33-year-old left-handed hitting OF and former pitcher Rick Ankiel. This is a waste of money.
Ankiel was dreadful with Houston this year, hitting .194/.231/.484 with 35 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances before he was released last Thursday. Oh, small sample size you say? Sure, but no. His 90 OPS+ is actually higher than his full season total in 2011 or 2012.
Since the start of the 2009 season, covering his age 29-33 seasons, Ankiel has “hit” .232/.292/.388 with strikeouts in 28% of his plate appearances. Remarkably, that’s worse than the Mets’ cumulative 2013 outfield production of .223/.302/.392.
The last time Ankiel was an above average MLB hitter: 2008 when he hit .264/.337/.506 with 25 homers in 120 games for the Cardinals.
Ankiel can play the outfield a little bit, but a cumulative reading of the advanced metrics suggest he is below average. Total Zone puts him a few runs above average per 150 games for his career. That result seems driven by an improbable +14 overall and +21/150 games for Washington in centerfield in 2011. UZR has him -7.8 for his career and -2.7/150. Defensive runs saved has him -6 for his career in centerfield and -2/150 games.
Ankiel becomes the fourth left-handed hitting outfielder on the Mets, joining Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter, and Jordany Valdespin.
Adding Ankiel will take playing time away from left-handed hitting outfield options like Baxter, Valdespin and even Kirk Nieuwenhuis if he ever makes it back to Queens. This is bad. The idea should be to play the younger to see if they can you know, play.
So, why did the Mets just sign Rick Ankiel?
Andy Martino has a fun piece for his Baseball Insider Blog at the Daily News about Zack Wheeler in which different Mets officials say slightly different thing about Zack Wheeler.
Unidentified person 1 on Wheeler and his last two excellent starts:
“Oh, the timetable has accelerated a lot,” said one club official. “He’s had two good ones, and if he has two more, you’ll see him up here. If all goes well we’re talking about June 1 at the latest.”
And number 2:
A separate high-ranking team source characterized June 1 as “a little aggressive. We’re still taking it start-to-start.”
Martino’s sources downplayed the importance of Wheeler’s Super-Two status relative to the pitcher’s overall readiness.
Wheeler has been great in his last two starts: 12.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 12 K, 0.71 ERA. However, in his first five starts, he owned a 5.70 ERA and opponents were hitting a robust .283/.385/.500 against him with 15 walks in 23.2 innings. That’s a pretty sharp divide.
If he throws like he did in April – that is struggling with his command – in his next few starts, he won’t be in the big leagues on June 1. If he shoves it, and hits his spots, he will be. This is not that hard. The minor leagues are for a guy like Zack Wheeler, learning. Yes, he will learn at the big league level, but he should be as prepared as possible when he gets there.
Even Wheeler’s own boosters, like Las Vegas manager Wally Backman want to see him make at least a few more AAA starts. “Personally, I think if he has a couple of more starts like his last start he’ll be headed to the big leagues, and rightfully so…”
Wheeler has talked about the mechanical adjustments he made which has helped his location. The 2013 Mets are not going to the playoffs. If Wheeler has a few more dominating starts, he will be in the big leagues. And soon Mets fans will have another reason to watch on days when Matt Harvey is not throwing.
Zack Wheeler had his best start of 2013 Tuesday in Reno, NV, holding the Aces to one run on five hits in 6.2 innings. He struck out eight and did not walk a batter until his 27th and final opponent of the game.
He told MiLB.com:
“I was lifting my leg and rotating my shoulders and when we looked at the video, we realized I was rotating too much instead of keeping my shoulders square to the plate…. It’s new right now, but I did it all last year. I had success with it, keeping my shoulders square,” he said. “But it’s new right now to me, so I just have to keep them square and take it from there.”
Why this helps:
“It was hard to pick up the target, everything was going to the wrong side. I keep my shoulders square and it’s allowed me to throw downhill and stay sharp.”
Wheeler and Las Vegas 51s Pitching Coach Randy St. Clair compared his motion this year to last year in AA Binghamton. Wheeler told the New York Post.
Once you see something like that, you have to make an adjustment,” Wheeler said. “We finally got some video in from last year and compared it to this year. We immediately saw the tweak I needed to make. … It sharpened up my off-speed pitches and helped my fastball command.
Wheeler has gone back and forth the last few years with his shoulder rotation and direction.
To give you a feel what this looks like, I pulled some stills from Wheeler’s motion yesterday.
The Leg Kick
These are actually two different pitches, but they look extremely similar – which is good. Note that in the photo on the right, Wheeler’s front left shoulder is just slightly tucked away from home plate so that he’s showing the hitter a little bit of the back side of his jersey.
From the Front
You can see this from the front – high leg kick, high hands, very slight shoulder turn.
Now look what happens when Wheeler breaks his hand and begins driving toward the plate.
There’s the tiniest bit of shoulder turn, but his shoulders are basically on top of his hips.
His shoulders probably feel “square” to third base basically all the way through and the turn is minimal.
One of the more interesting things about this development is that when the Mets acquired Wheeler in the summer of 2011, Wheeler’s control improved dramatically late that summer. He explained at the time that it was a question of returning to his high school mechanics which included a higher leg kick and higher hands. The Giants had tried to slow him down and keep him square all the way through and he felt that had taken a little movement away form his fastball and command from all of his pitches.
Note that in the link above, the higher leg kick comes with a more pronounced hip and shoulder turn away from home plate where Wheeler would show the batter the back of his front shoulder and jersey (at the 0:52 mark). Now, Wheeler has again moved away from that toward a more middle ground.
So the timeline, as I understand it:
2009 HS – loose, swinging motion, with high leg kick. All kinds of moving parts. Big weird step towards 1B out of the windup.
2010 SF (Augusta) – Giant step to 1B side eliminated. Giants tried to simplify Wheeler’s mechanics with a smaller leg kick, and less shoulder turn. He walked 14.5% of the batters he faced in the SAL. They also brought his hands in, which was positive.
2011 SF (San Jose) – Wheeler was walking over 12% of his opposing batters. Frustrated with what the Giants were teaching him, he sought out his high school coach and mechanics and began reintegrating his higher leg kick immediately before (two starts) the trade with the Mets.
One major difference between 2011 and 2013: his back leg. He’s pitching much, much taller now. Compare the back leg bend from May of 2011 at right (yuck) to the leg kick above. Optioned to Fresno does a great job compiling video of Wheeler’s adjustments from his high school time through his Giants’ tenure.
2011 NYM (St. Lucie) – Wheeler uses a loosely adapted version of his high school mechanics with: high leg kick, high hands, pronounced hip and shoulder turn. Wheeler walks 4.5% of the opposing batters he faces. Video here. The reason he adopted a shoulder/hip turn was to keep his front side from flying open and more closely matched with his arm – this is about the most common issue with young pitchers. There was still too much movement here to be repeatable enough.
2012 NYM (AA Bingo) – The Mets keep Wheeler’s high leg kick, but begin to encourage him (again) to tone down the shoulder and hip turn. (It’s still there in Spring Training video.) He walks 9% of the opposing batters he faces in AA (43 of 474) on his was to a 3.26 ERA. Promoted to AAA Buffalo at the end of the year, Wheeler’s walk rate spikes to 11.9% in 33 innings.
2013 NYM (AAA Las Vegas) – Wheeler and Wally Backman say Wheeler was rushing in his first start. Video here. In sum, taller at leg kick. Less shoulder swing. Wheeler discussed his effort to keep his front shoulder on line towards home plate here.
Zack Wheeler in 2013 in AAA looks a little bit different that 2011 Wheeler in advanced-A either with the Giants or the Mets and very different than 2009 Zack Wheeler in high school. This is development.
I’m not ready to say after one (very) good start in Las Vegas, that Wheeler has found his control once and for all. However, his motion, the one he showed Tuesday, now seems simpler and much more repeatable than it has been ever before. He still has the high leg kick, which he likes so much. He stays taller longer. Just a very little shoulder turn at the top of his motion allows him to stay closed and online toward the plate rather than flying open.
Wheeler can throw hard out of any motion he has used in the last few years. However, in order to throw the ball where he wants, with his fastball or breaking ball, he will need to find a motion that he is comfortable with and can repeat.
Today, the Mets called up Juan Lagares to replace Kirk Niuewenhuis in the outfield mix. Lagares is a versatile defender who can capably man all three spots with the range for center, and the arm for right. A former infielder, he was slowed by injuries (back and hand) early in his minor league career, but put it togetehr in a big way in Savannah in 2010 as a 21-year old.
That defensive versatility combined with a real, consistent ability to hit left-handers makes Lagares a good fit for the current Mets roster and a potential part of a platoon either in center or in right (whenever the team tires of Marlon Byrd). In 2012, Lagares hit .331/.379/.474 in 133 AB vs. LHP in AA. That came on the heels of a .321/.333/.472 line in 53 AB vs. southpaws at the same level in 2011. This was was more of the same ahs he was 7-for-24 vs. AAA LHP with two doubles and two homers for a .625 slugging percentage. On this Mets team, Lagares should play regularly against left-handed pitching.
Lagares, when he’s right is short and direct to the ball. He’s makes good barrel contact, but he’s a heavy top-hand hitter who generates more topspin than backspin which cuts down on the ball’s carry and thus his power numbers. In the upper minors, before Las Vegas, he had never run an isolated slugging percentage above .150.
Lagares is a very aggressive hitter. The Mets have worked hard with him on his approach in the last few years, but it remains a work in progress. In a-ball, while hitting .300/.318/.459 over 67 games for Savannah in 2010, he walked in 2.3% of his plate appearances. That went down (!) to 1.5% when he was promoted to St. Lucie later that summer where he hit .233/.248/.316 in 33 games. After bumping that up to 6.4% in 2011 in the FSL when his production rose to .338/.380/.494 in 82 games, he kept right on hitting in AA (.370/.391/.512 in 28 games but did not walk – 2.9%). In 2012, he spent the whole year at AA, and his walk rate rebounded to 6.8%, but his power numbers declined (a .106 isolated slugging percentage) for a .283/.334/.389 overall line.
In 17 games with Las Vegas this year, he was hitting .346/.378/.551 – the first time he has had an isolated slugging percentage above .205, so thank you PCL. And of course, as it has every time he has moved up, his walk rate dipped, but this time less severely – only to 4.9%.
It is extremely fitting that Lagares will be wearing #12, Scott Hairston’s old number, as like Hairston, he can hit lefties and be an asset defensively. However, compared to Hairston, at this point in their careers, Lagares might be a better defender with less power.
Mets’ Hitting Coach, Dave Hudgens will have his work cut out to make the 24-year-old Lagares a complete hitter who is patient enough to play everyday. Even if that effort is unsuccessful, Lagares’ defensive ability and prowess against LHP will make him valuable to this Mets team.
A few hours after Matt Harvey was done dominating the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Friday night, Zack Wheeler took to the mound in Las Vegas and walked six batters before departing with one out in the fifth inning. This is a problem.
In his four starts, Wheeler has walked 12 batters in 18.1 innings, tied for second in the PCL. He has walked 14% of the opposing batters he has faced a rate that is sixth in the PCL. Over his four starts, he walked three batters in 3.1 innings, three batters in 5.1 innings, zero batters in 5.1 innings and six in 4.1 on Friday night. If Wheeler is to become a successful big league pitcher, he must cut his walk rate down, at least towards the Major League average of 8.5%.
Mets fans might recall that Matt Harvey struggled with his command early in his AAA tenure with the Buffalo Bisons in 2012. Over the weekend, a couple of fans asked me to compare the beginning to Wheeler’s 2013 with Las Vegas to Harvey’s in Buffalo. I will, but two issues jump out. First, Wheeler made six starts in AAA last year with the Bisons. Thus, his first four starts in 2013 are seven-through-10 in AAA overall. Truly, then, the comparable starts for Wheeler at least by time of AAA exposure, to Harvey is to compare Wheeler’s first four starts in 2013, to Harvey’s May 8-24 run in 2012. The issue then becomes comparing a number of Harvey starts in relatively fair ballparks in Grwinnett, Buffalo and Charlotte to Wheeler’s in Sacramento, Fresno, Colorado Springs and Las Vegas.
So, without further delay, lets look at the numbers.
The first set of charts compares Wheeler’s 2013 to both Matt Harvey’s first four 2012 starts in AAA and Harvey’s seventh-10th AAA starts.
Four Starts – Basic
|Harvey First four Starts 2012||6.63||4/4||19.0||24||17||14||1||11||19||1||4|
|Harvey Starts 7-10 2012||3.47||4/4||23.33||20||9||9||3||9||24||0||2|
Four Starts – Advanced
|Harvey First four Starts 2012||5.2||9.0||1.7||0.5||11.4||8.1||12.2||21.1||90|
|Harvey Starts 7-10 2012||3.5||9.3||2.7||1.2||7.7||3.5||9.4||25.0||96|
What do we learn? Wheeler’s start to 2013 actually looks fairly similar to Harvey’s early season work in 2012 with a better ERA in a tougher environment for pitchers. To be fair however, Harvey also had to deal with some nasty cold, which made pitching difficult in his first few starts in Buffalo. Both guys had strikeout rates above 21% and walk rates between 12 and 14%. Harvey, by rate, had fewer strikeouts and fewer walks and gave up more runs. However, comparing Wheeler’s start to Harvey’s May 2012 is less charitable to Wheeler. By that point in AAA, Harvey had sliced his walk rate down to 9.4% while upping his strikeout rate to 25%.
By age, Harvey was a little bit older for the time period under examination here, but the issue is fast becoming a wash. He was 23 on Opening Day, 2012. Wheeler pitched all of 2012 as a 22-year old, but will be 23 on May 30, 2013. Of course, Wheeler was a first round pick by the Giants in 2009 (6th overall) out of high school, whereas Harvey was a Mets’ first round pick by the Mets out of the University of North Carolina in 2010 (7th overall).
Four starts is a pretty poor way to judge a pitcher. (Unless we’re talking about Harvey’s start to his 2013 season, in which he has a 0.93 ERA and a 402 ERA+ in which case it’s the perfect time to declare four starts the ideal representation of a pitcher’s talent/sarcasm font.) So, lets expand this and look at the two pitchers’ cumulative AAA performance in their first 10 starts. The raw numbers will be unkind to Wheeler, who has to deal with the Pacific Coast League.
Wheeler vs. Harvey – First 10 – Basic
|Wheeler First 10 AAA Starts||3.86||10/10||51.3||43||26||22||3||28||52||1||3|
|Harvey First 10 AAA Starts||4.22||10/10||53.33||51||26||25||4||22||51||2||7|
Wheeler vs. Harvey – First 10 – Advanced
|Wheeler First 10 AAA Starts||4.9||9.1||1.9||0.5||7.5||4.6||12.8||23.7||219|
|Harvey First 10 AAA Starts||3.7||8.6||2.3||0.7||8.6||4.4||9.6||22.3||229|
Over his first 10 AAA starts, Wheeler has actually allowed the same number of runs as Harvey (26), while Harvey threw two more innings. However, four of the runs Wheeler has allowed have been unearned compared to just one for Harvey. That discrepancy accounts for the entire difference in ERA between the two. Wheeler also allowed fewer hits. The two had very similar strikeout rates. But again, Wheeler was walking more batters 12.8% of opponents compared to Harvey’s 9.6%. Also notable, Harvey threw seven wild pitches compared to Wheeler’s one.
If you want to go back further to their AA tenures, Wheeler walked 11.9% of the batters he faced in AA, compared to Harvey’s 8.8%.
The Bottom Line
Wheeler walked too many batters at AA. He is walking too many batters in AAA. Matt Harvey went through similar walk issues early in his AAA tenure. However, by the time he had as many starts as Wheeler has had now at the level, he was walking fewer hitters, and his performance was ahead of Wheeler’s. This is painfully obvious, but if Wheeler is to be a successful major league starter, he must cut his walk rate down. This is the category to check first in every one of Wheeler’s box scores moving forward.
This is no silver-lining to the news that C Travis d’Arnaud, one of the major pieces in the Mets return from the R.A. Dickey trade has a non-displaced fracture in the first metarsal bone. He will miss time.
He was struck in the foot by a foul tip in Wednesday night’s Las Vegas 51s game in the top of the sixth inning.
The first metatarsal is the bone in the human foot behind the big toe, and the shortest, thickest and strongest of the metatarsals. The first metatarsal is not connected through ligaments to the second metatarsal, so moves independently and as I learned today the head of the bone “is thought to bear one third of body weight.”
The Mets have not put a timetable on d’Arnaud’ return, which is reasonable enough with d’Arnaud set to return to New York to see the team’s doctors.
The question now, and one I have not seen addressed is whether there is instability in the fracture. If there is, d’Arnaud will require surgery, but if there is no instability, then sportsinjurybulletin and Patient.co.uk suggests a cast or walking boot for 4-6 weeks is sufficient to allow the bone to heal. The fact that the Mets’ announced the injury as a non-displaced fracture is d’Arnaud’s hope for avoiding surgery.
Lets go through some of the recent baseball foot fractures similar to d’Arnaud’s to estimate a return date.
If I missed a player who broke first metatarsal, please alert me.
Orlando Hudson – O Dog was diagnosed with a “contusion of the first metatarsal joint in his left foot” and placed on the disabled list retroactive to August 16. He came back on September 1, in the minimum. Back on the field in two and a half weeks.
Wally Joyner – Joyner, then 37, suffered a “hairline” fracture of his first metatarsal on February 24 during spring training with the Braves. Joyner pinch-hit on April 4, and started for the first time on April 9. Back in games in six weeks.
Shawn Green – Green “suffered a chip fracture of the first metatarsal bone in his right foot when he fouled a ball off of it” on May 25, 2007. Although the original diagnosis called for him to miss six weeks, he was back on June 11. For what it’s worth, 2007 was Green’s final big league season. Back in games in two and a half weeks.
On June 26, 2010, Dustin Pedroia suffered a “non-displaced fracture of the navicular bone in his left foot.” Pedroia missed two months, played two games in August, and shut it down for the season. The key thing to understand about Pedroia’s injury is that he broke a different bone – the navicular bone – in the midfoot, making it a less relevant comparison.
Hockey in 2013
This year, January 25, Flyers winger Scott Hartnell, ”had successful surgery to repair a broken first metatarsal in his left foot and will be out four to six weeks.” Hartnell was back almost a month to the day after his surgery was announced for a game versus Winnipeg on February 23.
There are no catchers in the group and the history of first metatarsal breaks has a few encouraging examples.
This injury ensures that d’Arnaud will have just one healthy season in the last four.
In 2012, d’Arnaud missed the second half of the year after tearing the PCL in his knee trying to break up a double-play with Las Vegas. He was limited to just 67 games.
He was healthy in 2011, but in 2010, Back problems limited d’Arnaud to 71 games with advanced-A Dunedin.
d’Arnaud is 24 with with a lengthy injury history.
I spoke with an athletic trainer outside the Mets’ organization who though the 5-8 week range for d’Arnaud’s return to action was eminently reasonable and even conservative. The trainer was most concened about the demands placed on d’Arnaud’s foot, including the recently healed bone and the surrounding muscles from crouching. How he and the Mets manage that initial discomfort will be interesting. I would suspect that when he returns, he will spend some time at DH to get him back in the lineup and manage the catching-induced stress on his foot.
The most basic timetable without having seen an X-ray or MRI the trainer suggested would be the following: the next few (3 ish) weeks will be spent allowing d’Arnaud’s toe to heal. The next few weeks (3 ish) will be rehab focused.
Even if he misses two months, he will return to action in June. A three month absence, which would be very long for this type of injury, would have him return in July.
d’Arnaud was basically ready for the big leagues when he tore his knee last year. His full AAA line is now .324/.386/.581. This year, his return to AAA was as much about getting him some healthy repetitions, teaching him a little more patience, and managing his service time as anything else.
Barring an expansion of the original diagnosis which includes other broken bones, d’Arnaud should be back in Las Vegas for the heat of the summer and should make his Major League debut later in 2013.
However, this injury almost certainly will delay d’Arnaud’s Major League debut. Outside of that, how does this affect his overall projection? Bones heal. Speed was not a major piece of d’Arnaud’s game. Most importantly, it adds another injury (to go with back and knee) to his ledger. Each injury makes a subsequent injury more likely.
Still, d’Arnaud was the Mets’ catcher of the future on Wednesday morning. He still is on Thursday. The future has just been a little bit delayed.
The Mets and and Marlins share a division, a time zone, and little orange in the uniforms, but not an organizational philosophy.
In the first round of the June 2011 amateur draft, the Mets selected a raw, athletic outfielder, out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Brandon Nimmo, with the 13th overall pick. With the 14th selection, the Marlins selected a raw, hardthrowing right-handed pitcher out of Tampa, FL Jose Fernandez.
On Sunday, April 7, with his 20th birthday less than a month behind him, Brandon Nimmo played his fourth game in a full-season league going 3-for-4 with a double and a walk in the Savannah Sand Gnats’ 4-0 win over the Rome Braves. Nimmo is 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, a triple and two walks, in his first four games of the year. On the same day, Fernandez, who will turn 21 on the final day of July, made his major league debut, fanning eight Mets while walking one in five innings while allowing only one run. Sure, he looked like the real deal for five innings.
Fernandez became the third member of the first round of the 2011 draft class to make his MLB debut following in the steps of Trevor Bauer (#3 overall) and Dylan Bundy (#4 overall). It is not an exageration to say that he has already had more success after ONE start, than either of the pitchers who made the big leagues before him. Bauer has experienced control problems: in 21.1 innings in the big leagues, he has walked 20 batters and the Diamondbacks gaveup/traded him this past offseason. He walked seven in his five innings of work on Saturday night. Bundy made his MLB debut last september, but the Orioles optioned him to AA to begin the 2013 season. He had elbow “tightness” and has been placed on the minor league DL.
The Mets 2011 Strategy
At the time of the draft, the Mets made clear that the overall shape of the talent distribution affected the way they went about their early picks.
Referring directly to the Mets’ pick at #13, Paul dePodesta, New York’s vice president of player development and amateur scouting said, “I think we were ideally looking for a position player… This draft is definitely deep in college pitching, but there were only a few impact bats and if we were going to get one of them we were going to take him high.”
The Mets held true to their plan. After Nimmo, and high school RHP Michael Fulmer at #44 overall, the team drafted four straight collegiate arms: Cory Mazzoni, Logan Verrett, Tyler Pill and Jack Leathersich.
The First-Round Position Players
There were six position players drafted in the top half of the first round ahead of Nimmo: Bubba Starling (KC, HS); Anthony Rendon (WAS, College – Rice); Francisco Lindor (CLE; HS); Javier Baez (CHI-NL; HS); Cory Spangenberg (SF; CC), George Springer (HOU; College – UConn).
Starling played 53 games in the Appalachian League in 2012, and is beginning 2013 with Lexington in the South Atlantic League. Rendon was the top collegiate position player drafted. He worked his way through a-ball levels in 2012, and begins the 2013 season as a 22-year old in AA Harrisburg.
Lindor, who Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus thinks is the best defensive shortstop in the minors, hit .257/.352/.355 in 122 games for Lake County in the Midwest League in 2012. He too is starting in advanced-A in 2013.
At 19, Baez hit a loud .333/.383/.596 in 57 games in the Midwest League for the Cubs in 2012, before moving along to advanced-A where he hit just .188/.244/.400 in 23 games. He’s back in advanced-A to start 2013. Both Baseball America and MLB.com had him rated in their Top 20 overall at #16.
As a 21-year old, 2B Spangenberg put up ordinary, but not superlative numbers (.271/.324/.352) in the California League while playing his home games in Lake Elsinore, the fairest of the Southern Division parks.
Springer tore up the California League in 2012 while playing the hitters’ paradise of Lancaster at age 22, slowed down considerably in 22 games in AA (.219/.288/.342), and is repeating AA to start this year.
After Nimmo, no HS position player was drafted until the Red Sox popped C Blake Swihart at #26 overall. Old for a HS player, he played in the South Atlantic League with Greenville in 2012 as a 20-year old, where he hit .262/.307/.395 in 92 games. He is starting 2013 in advanced-A Salem. The Rays went for HS shortstop Jake Hager at #32 overall. As a 19-year old in the Midwest League last year, he hit .281/.345/.412 with and he too is starting in advanced-A in 2013.
The 2013 Issue vs. Building
Clearly, when the Mets drafted Nimmo, they planned for him to be in a-ball in 2013. They were interested less in building a team for 2013 than for 2014 and beyond, which to be clear is where Nimmo, who is unlikely to make his MLB debut before 2015 at the earliest, fits in.
The Marlins have decided that they can afford to ignore the financial ramifications that go with promoting Jose Fernandez and spend additional resources on 2013. Regardless how good he looked on one Sunday afternoon in April, that’s still a poor and expensive idea. Even if he is so mentally tough after his daring escape from Cuba, the Marlins have chosen to prioritize April 2013 wins or even excitement, if and when Fernandez runs into problems in a start, over fiscal prudence.
What are the Marlins building for?
The Mets are clearly building for 2014, 2015, 2016 and beyond.
Both the Mets and Marlins, two of the teams who can expect to inhabit the bottom of the National League East in 2013 made decisions with their best pitching prospect in the last week. The Mets, with Zack Wheeler got it right, and the Marlins, with Jose Fernandez got it wrong.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections saw the Marlins as a 70-win team and the Mets as an 82 win team. In the Mets’ case, that included 131 good (sub 3.50 ERA) innings from Johan Santana, which is not going to happen. ZiPS projected the Mets for 68 wins back in January. Vegas lists the Mets over/under at 74 and the Marlins at 64.5. Joe Sheehan saw 59 wins for the Marlins and 62 (and 100 losses) for the Mets.
These are teams that should not be placing much value on wins in 2013. Rather, it should be about building toward their next winning roster.
Beset by injuries to two of their projected starting five rotation members, the Mets sent their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to AAA Las Vegas. Best by injuries to two of their projected starting five rotation members, the Marlins promoted Jose Fernandez straight from advanced-A to the big league rotation. Again, the 20-year old Fernandez has never thrown pitch in AA or AAA.
The Prospect Rankings
I saw Fernandez in 2012 when he was pitching for the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Of course I loved him, he throws 93-97 with a vicious slider and even showed a few good changeups to go along with some bad ones. Wheeler two has a premium fastball in the mid-90s with two potentially plus breaking balls – a slider and a curve. Coming into the season, Baseball America listed him as the game’s #5 prospect, MLB.com had him #7, Baseball Prospectus at #6, while Wheeler was #11, #8 and #5 in those three rankings respectively. These are two of the game’s best pitching prospects.
Are they Ready?
Zack Wheeler belongs in AAA right now. In 2012, in six starts in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons, he walked 16 of the 134 batters he faced, a rate of 11.9%. Major League average is 8.5%. Put another way, Wheeler has below average control. His stuff is so good and so lively, that he can get away with some mistakes – against AAA hitters, and even some Major League hitters. However, he cannot get away with that many.
Is Fernandez ready? Of course not. He’s never seen a double-A lineup nor a triple-A lineup. Fernandez has not thrown enough high-minors innings for ZiPS to spit out a projection on him. PECOTA thinks he could survive in the big leagues, projected a weighted mean ERA of 3.52 over only 37.1 innings. PECOTA spits out a weighted mean of 4.15 ERA for Wheeler in 108.3 innings.
Even if both players could survive a full-season in the big leagues, should they? That is, do their assignments give their teams the best chance of maximizing the players’ long-term (pre free agency) value? Again, neither the Mets nor Marlins should expect to be .500 teams this year. So, what is the cost of promoting each player? If Fernandez or Wheeler start the season in the big leagues, and spend the whole year with their teams, they will burn a full year of service time and start their six-year clock towards free agency, becoming free agents after the 2018 season. This is the really big number. Assuming that each guy develops into a good or elite starting pitcher, the cost to a team of buying out their free agent years could be $20 million.
Keeping each player in the minors for roughly two months now before promoting a player will likely keep him out of the super-two arbitration category. The Super Twos get to go to arbitration four times instead of three, beginning after their second big league season. Because their raises start earlier, Super Two status could well be worth $10-$18 to the player and team over three years.
So, neither the Mets nor Marlins is likely to be in a postion where any marginal wins in 2013 benefit the team dramatically. There is statistical evidence that suggests that Wheeler needs at least a little more time to polish his control. That evidence does not exist for Fernandez because he has never seen higher-level competition. His expected performance should have much larger error bars. And yet, the Marlins are willing to incur a significant cost in promoting Jose Fernandez right now. That makes no sense.
Reader TheBigStapler asked in response to yesterday’s Jack Leathersich writeup:
Has Leathersich demonstrated any dramatic split between left and right-handed opponents? A high K% against left-handers could have him shooting up to the majors.
Leathersich’s key splits from 2012 – walk rate, strikeout rate and line drive percentage as calculated by minorleaguecentral.com – are presented in the table below.
Well, what do we have here? Leathersich was actually more effective against righties overall. Left-handed hitters produced a much higher line drive rate and many fewer strikeouts. Go figure.
Good question. This does not change my evaluation of Leathersich.
The Mets are carrying a number of players on their 40-man roster who are unlikely to contribute much this year or ever.
Adam Rubin reports:
In desperate need of clearing several spots, the Mets have put out word to other teams that they are interested in moving non-core prospects on the 40-man roster.
Among those available via trade: Gonzalez Germen, Darin Gorski, Reese Havens, Juan Lagares, Cesar Puello, Elvin Ramirez and Hansel Robles.
If Mets officials are unable to trade prospects on the 40-man roster for other teams’ farmhands not on the 40, they will have to start placing them through waivers at the end of the week to clear spots. A handful likely would clear, including Havens.
I would imagine that Germen, Havens and Robles would all clear waivers. Some team might be entranced by Ramirez’s velocity. Lagares should clear as well.
Havens has one modest pursuer. Andy Martino of the Daily News who tweeted that “Heard
#BlueJays have been poking around on #Mets minor league 2B Reese Havens.”
Martino also confirms that Puello is at risk. There’s some cruel irony that the Mets might sacrifice whatever potential the 22-year old Puello, who was in the Biogenesis documents, has left, to carry 35-year old Marlon Byrd who hit .210/.243/.245 in 153 PA last year between Chicago and Boston before getting suspended for PED use.