Mets Farm System twitter Q&A recap

The Twitter account @MetsFarmReport, which is run by a few members of the Mets Baseball Operations staff, did a twitter Q&A yesterday.

Metsblog has the thing all Storified up. Amazin Avenue did a recap and lists all the questions and answers.   There were plenty of questions about where players can expect to start 2014.

(Toby writing): The things that caught my eye particularly were:

1. Dilson Herrera, who was part of the team’s return for Marlon Byrd and John Buck will play some shortstop this year.
(Herrera will presumably play at St. Lucie, coming off a .267/.334/.416 line with 27 doubles and 11 homers, as a 19-year-old in 116 games I don’t see a need to repeat the SAL).
2. “There is a chance” that 2013 first round pick Dom Smith will break camp with full-season Savannah in 2014. (This is hardly a promise that Smith will skip Brooklyn and open in Savannah in April. The team is keeping its options open. I cannot find similar statements with respect to Gavin Cecchini at this time a year ago. By contrast, the Mets were very clear now that Cecchini, who was in Brooklyn in 2013, would begin the year with a full-season team.)
3. The fastest player in the system? 2013 sixth round pick Champ Stuart, who I liked a lot.
4. The lesser known prospects the Farm Report wanted to highlight initially included three Kingsport arms from 2013: RHP Robert Whalen, RHP Chris Flexen, RHP Tyler Bashlor and 3B Jhoan Urena.  Later, MFR expanded that list to include “interesting power arms” Robert Coles and Ricky Jacquez.

 

Year End Lists! By Position – C

Let’s wrap this year up with Mets prospect lists by position. Then, early in 2014, we’ll synthesize the whole into a 2014 Mets Top 41 Prospect list.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this year, to prepare my Mets Top 41, I first created lists by position.

I’ll put up a list for each position, with a few light comments on the position or individual players. Each player who makes my Top 41 will get a longer profile as part of that process.

So, we’ll go around the diamond, starting today with Catcher, one of the more well-defined positions for the Mets.


Catcher
Travis d’Arnaud
Kevin Plawecki
Juan Centeno
Tomas Nido
Cam Maron

1. d’Arnaud will be the Mets’ Opening Day starting catcher. I expect him to be an above average Major League catcher pretty much right away if he can stay on the field.

2. Plawecki will begin the 2014 season at AA. He’s a fine prospect, who will likely see the big leagues. At the plate, he’s more aggressive than I think is commonly recognized: a low-strikeout, moderate walk player with gap power. He maintains high on-base-percentages with many hit-by-pitches (24 in 2013). Defensively, he’s ok, but his arm is his weakest tool.

3. The Mets added Centeno to the team’s 40-man roster at the end of the 2014 season. He has as little pop as any player on a big league roster, but makes contact and draws a few walks. He’s also a strong defensive catcher who threw out about 40% of opposing runners in 2011 and 2012 and over 50% in 2013. He’s never been a primary catcher on any team he’s played on, instead performing well in a time-share or as a backup.

4. Nido hit .185/.218/.261 with four walks against 21 strikeouts as a 19-year-old with Brooklyn in 2013. The Mets signed him for a quarter of a million dollars in the 2012 draft to keep him away from a Florida State commitment, but the raw catcher, who I had ranked #29 in the system coming into 2013, has done very little as a professional.

5. After a nice 2012 with Savannah (.300/.403/.408 in 93 games), and earned my #33 prospect ranking, Maron flopped in St. Lucie in 2013 (.235/.327/.295). It’s not just that his batting average on balls in play dropped from .366 in 2012 to .284 in 2013, his extra-base hit and walk rates dropped as well.  While his caught-stealing rate climbed from 13% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, opponents still stole 76 bases against him in 2013. Basically, teams ran on Maron, and his pitchers, a lot.

Steamer Likes Thor and Montero A Lot (But the Math is Fuzzy To Me)

fangraphs logoAs a companion piece to Fangraphs Top 10 Mets prospects, Carson Cistulli took a look at the Steamer projections for the guys on the list.

There are two things that really caught my eye:

1. Steamer projects Travis d’Arnaud to be worth 2.9 WAR via above average offense (108 wRC+) and above average defense worth eight runs. This is basically in line where I think d’Arnaud will be this year – an above average big league catcher.

2. Steamer really, really likes Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. Based on projected strikeout and walk rates, Cistulli derives a kwERA, an ERA predictor, and then uses that to construct kwERA- (an ERA estimator like ERA-, where 100 is average, and lower is better). By this method, he estimates a kwERA of 3.53 for Syndergaard and 3.79 for Montero and kwERA- of 91 for Thor and 98 for Montero. Thus, over 150 innings, through the translations that Cistulli make, that translates into a WAR of 2.6 for Syndergaard and 2.1 for Montero. These, relatively speaking, are monster estimates.

For example, on the Fangraphs page for each of the other six potential Mets starting pitchers (Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Bartolo Colon and Carlos Torres) no other starter is projected as being worth more than 1.7 WAR/150 innings. In terms of overall WAR, Steamer tops out Bartolo Colon at 2.0 over 173 innings.

Syndergaard_front-2I think there’s something weird about both Cistilli’s transitions from kwERA to WAR/150 innings and the way Fangraphs is doing their Steamer WAR estimation other places, however, only one of which is made explicit. Cistulli writes of his own estimate, “Figures might diverge slightly (although not significantly) from those which appear on player pages.” Ok, so we’re covered there. (Given that Cistulli’s method includes only walk and strikeout percentages, and not homers or any other run scoring events, that all makes sense.) However, I was interested in comparing the prospect projections with other Mets’ pitchers, but projections using different methodologies make that difficult. Instead, I used the projections generated on other areas of the site, particularly the player pages. Even so, there’s something off.

On the player pages, Steamer projects Jenrry Mejia to pitch to a 3.71 ERA and a 3.53 FIP over 73 innings for a 0.3 WAR or 0.62 WAR/150. Steamer projects Rafael Montero to pitch to a 3.86 ERA and a 3.64 FIP over 67 innings and accumulate a 0.7 WAR or 1.57 WAR/150. So, Steamer projects Montero to pitch fewer innings, and do so less well than Mejia on a per-inning basis, by ERA AND FIP, but be worth more WAR. I must be missing something.

Leaving that aside, and using only Steamer’s ERA estimate from the player pages, Steamer projects Noah Syndergaard with the second-best ERA among this group behind only Mejia. Montero (3.86) has the fourth-best ERA projection behind only Mejia, Syndergaard, Colon and in a class with Jon Niese (3.90) and Carlos Torres (3.95).

So, again, Steamer really likes Montero and Syndergaard. Without assigning too much specificity, it sees Syndergaard as one of the Mets’ best non-Harvey pitchers right now, and Montero fitting comfortably in the back side, or #4 slot in a rotation.

 


The following chart uses ERA, IP and WAR estimates from Steamer on Fangraphs player pages. The only column where I did any manipulation is the farthest right, where I prorated Fangraphs’ Steamer WAR estimate over 150 innings.

 Steamer on the 2014 Mets Pitching


2013 ERA- 2014 Steamer ERA 2014 Steamer IP 2014 Steamer WAR 2014 WAR/150 innings
Matt Harvey 63 NA NA NA NA
Jon Niese 104 3.9 134 1.5 1.68
Zack Wheeler 96 4.12 182 1.4 1.15
Dillon Gee 101 4.18 144 1 1.04
Jenrry Mejia 64 3.71 73 0.3 0.62
Bartolo Colon 68 3.8 173 2 1.73
Carlos Torres 96 3.95 160 0.3 0.28
Noah Syndergaard NA 3.73 1 0 0.00
Rafael Montero NA 3.86 67 0.7 1.57
Jacob deGrom NA 4.56 1 0 0.00

The Brett Anderson Trade in Mets Prospects and Assets

Tuesday, the Rockies and A’s swapped oft-injured/disappointing lefthanders Brett Anderson and $2 million for Drew Pomeranz and minor leaguer Chris Jensen.

We’ve been running a series where we compare the players involved in trade packages to those in the Mets organization. This concept works a lot better when there are more players involved. Both the Dexter Fowler to the Astros and the Doug Fister to the Nationals deals involved at least three players. With more players, we can be a little looser about assigning a type of player and tweaking around the edges to make the values roughly match.

Anderson Evaluation
Anderson is the more expensive player, and the one who has performed better, when he’s healthy in the big leagues. He’s a groundball generating machine; his gb% has risen from 50.9% in 2009 to 54.6% in 2010 to 57.5% in 2011, to 59.8% in 2012 and then 62.9% in 2013. That’s as clear a trend as one could possibly hope to see. On the other hand, his games started and innings pitched by year has been heading in the opposite direction – falling each year.

.                           Games Started                        IP
2009                      30                                         175.1
2010                       19                                         112.1
2011                        13                                          83.1
2012                         6                                          35.0
2013                         5                                           44.2

 

For his career, he owns a 3.81 ERA, a 3.56 FIP, and an 8.2 fWAR but only a 6.1 RA9-WAR. Those last two numbers illustrate well how the WAR metric for pitchers is calculated. RA9- WAR is read as “WAR calculated by runs allowed per nine innings. Standard fWAR uses FIP, which rewards groundballers.

Anderson’s injury history covers most of his body parts: head (concussion), lower back (stiffness/tightness), left elbow (strain/inflammation/Tommy John surgery), right knee (hyper extension), upper back (spasms), left thumb (sprain), right ankle (sprain), right foot (stress fracture). Is the Tommy John surgery in 2011 the most significant? Or is it the sum of all the injuries?

Anderson is no longer cheap, and cutting costs was clearly a major factor for the A’s. He is owed $8 million in 2014 and his contract calls for a club option of $12 million in 2015 with a $1.5 million buyout.

Anderson is not the kind of injury-risk pitcher the Mets have signed in the last few years. Instead, the Mets have made smaller one-year gambles on Chris Capuano ($1.5 million in 2011), Chris Young ($1.1 million in 2011 and a minor league deal in 2012), Shaun Marcum ($4 million in 2013), Daisuke Matsuzaka (MLB minimum in 2013). On a payroll at or below $90 million as the Mets have run recently and seem poised to run in 2014, the $8 million Anderson will earn in 2014, or more precisely, $6 million net the $2 million Oakland sent along, just does not fit.

Anderson is big (6’4″, 235 lbs) and can touch 93 mph with his fastball although he sits 91-92 mph.

 

The Return
Drew Pomeranz has pedigree. The Indians drafted him fifth overall in June 2010 out of Mississippi. A little over a year later, the Indians shipped him to Colorado to complete their trade for Ubaldo Jimenez.

What Pomeranz doesn’t have is results. He made four starts and four relief appearances a year ago for Colorado and gave up 25 hits and 15 runs in 21.2 innings. Most damning, moreso than the four home runs, were the 19 walks (!) against 19 strikeouts. He made 15 starts in AAA where he ran a 4.20 ERA, walked 9% of the opponent batters and fanned 26% in a season cut short by biceps tendonitis.

Stepping backward, Pomeranz put up good numbers across the board in 2011 with the Indians in AA in Akron. The Rockies promoted him to the big leagues after he was traded. While his topline ERA of 5.40 in four appearances is not impressive, the underlying stats say he was closer to holding his own: a strikeout rate of 17%, a walk rate of 6.5%, and a 2.59 FIP.

Pomeranz started 2012 in the big leagues, but the Rockies dispatched him to AAA after he ran a 4.70 ERA in his first five starts in which he had 20 strikeouts and 15 walks in 23 innings, that’s a strikeout rate of 18.5%, but a walk rate of 13.9%. Down in AAA, in the thin air of Colorado Springs, he was much better: 2.51 ERA in 9 starts and 46 strikeouts (22%) against 20 walks (9.4%) in 46.2 innings over nine starts. Note that his walk rate would still be above MLB or AAA averages. He finished 2012 in the Rockies’ rotation, eventually making 22 starts for a 4.93 ERA and a 4.81 FIP.

In terms of stuff, Pomeranz is extremely reliant on a fastball that averages 91 mph and a curveball in the upper 70s (that’s plus velocity) to go along with a seldom used changeup. In 2011 and 2012, he threw his fastball over 76% of the time – a rate that would have been the third-highest fastball usage among qualified MLB starters. At ESPN, Keith Law still calls Pomeranz’s curveball plus.

I forgot about Pomeranz’s other injury problems which include an appendectomy, and quad and hip issues. (Thanks Jay Jaffe.)

Pomeranz has a walk problem. It’s been over 9% in AAA and has spiked well above that in the big leagues. Oakland will have the luxury of sending him to AAA to try to get him right.

 

The Minor Leaguer
Chris Jensen is a big RHP (6’4″, 200) who the Rockies drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft from San Diego. In his age 22 season, he put up a 4.55 ERA with a 21% strikeout rate and a 5.8% walk rate in 152.1 innings in the hitter-friendly California League. Note however, that Jensen’s home ballpark in Modesto is one of the League’s two pitcher friendliest (along with San Jose). I probably saw Jensen in 2012 with Asheville, but whatever impression he made on me at the time did not survive a year and a half.

BP says Jensen was 91-94, touching 95 as a starter, with a 83-86 mph changeup and breaking ball at 77-80 that was inconsistent. Jordan Gorosh thinks he can be a “back-end starter who has the ability to log innings.” Law calls him “just a guy.”

 

Mets Comps
The Mets really do not have a pitcher whose profile looks like Drew Pomeranz. Clearly, shedding Anderson’s salary was important to Oakland, in addition to the gamble on Pomeranz, who has 1.05 years of MLB service time. Thus, we will confine our search for comps to pre-arb players, preferably with something like a year of MLB service time or less.

Our service time/cheap requirement dispatches Dillon Gee and his 3.028 years of MLB service.

Jenrry Mejia and his 1.14 years of MLB service are close enough to Pomeranz. Mejia’s five start run in 2013 – 2.30 ERA, 27.1 IP, 27 K, 4 BB, was better than anything Pomeranz has strung together at the Major League Level. Mejia’s value should be depressed by the fact that, thanks to Tommy John surgery and Jerry Manuel, he’s thrown 100 innings in a season only once and never exceeded 110. Mejia’s injury problems post-Tommy John surgery make him a fellow traveler with Pomeranz and Andersen.

If you want no MLB success, with control problems think Jeurys Familia.
If you want no MLB success, with success in AA, think Cory Mazzoni. Like Pomeranz, Mazzoni will likely start the 2014 season in AAA.

Jensen could be Rainy Lara or Tyler Pill. I kinda like the Lara angle better. He’s a low 90s fastball guy, with a changeup and slider that is decidedly his third pitch. He has size (6’4″) and a 3.76 ERA in the Florida State League but underwhelming peripherals (16% strikeout rate and 6% walk rate).

 

Conclusion
I think this deal is something like Jenrry Mejia and Rainy Lara for Brett Anderson. Anderson was due a minimum of $9.5 million – his 2014 salary plus his buyout – at the time he was traded.

Colorado took the more expensive player, with a longer big league track record with a huge injury report. Oakland took the cheaper guy with a walk rate worse than average, no big league track record of success and a shorter injury report. Both guys are gambles in their way.

Let me be clear again: I don’t think Jenrry Mejia is a great match for Drew Pomeranz in many if not most respects. However, I’ve decided among Mets pitchers under team control, he’s the closest in value and fit given what Oakland appeared to be trying to accomplish.

Given the health risks on Anderson, and the cost, in dollars – especially on a ~$90 million payroll – and players, he made little sense for the Mets in the winter of 2013-2014.

The Doug Fister Trade in Mets Prospects/Assets

We’re going to play a (fun?) game that matches Mets prospects/assets to those involved in trades for other teams.
Yesterday, we looked at the Dexter Fowler to the Astros deal. Today, by popular demand, we’ll examine the Doug Fister to the Nationals trade.

Doug Fister, who will always be Dog Fister to me, is a very good, and probably underrated pitcher. By FIP, he’s 10th in baseball in the last three years. By RA9-WAR he’s 15th at 12.4 (nearly identical to Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez and ahead of every Mets’ fans favorite: R.A. Dickey (12.0)).

The Nationals sent LHP Ian Krol, Robbie Ray and infielder Steve Lombardozzi to the Tigers for Fister.

One-Sided Deal
The internet praised the Nationals and General Manager Mike Rizzo for his wheeling and dealing.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs: “Maybe it’s the fact that Fister’s fastball sits at 89, or that he was a non-prospect for most of his days in the minor leagues, but barring an unknown injury that is about to wreck his value, it seems like 29 MLB teams are missing the boat on Doug Fister. If Fister were a free agent, he’d have been the best starter on the market by a good margin…..though, this just an outright robbery. In a market where the prices for mediocre pitchers are very high, the Nationals paid a moderate price for a very good pitcher.”

Keith Law at ESPN: “I can’t believe the Tigers couldn’t get more total value than this for Fister, who is easily a top 25-30 overall starter in the game; they might have traded more to fill needs than to maximize their return…. A lefty reliever, a backup at second and a non-top-100 prospect is just not a good return for two years of one of the top 30 starters in baseball.”

Ben Lindbergh at Baseball Prospectus is confused too. He calculates conservatively that Fister, who will earn ~$7 million in arbitration this winter, and more next time out,  should be expected to provide ~$14 million in surplus value over the next two years. He writes, “Would a team pay $14 million for six years of Ray, six years of Krol, and four years of Lombardozzi? …. Or maybe there’s something else we’re missing…. It’s hard to believe that no other team would have offered a better package, had they all been aware of what Washington was about to give up …  So where does that leave us? Either Dombrowski failed to shop Fister around, every other team failed to evaluate Fister properly, or none of us on the internet knows anything.”

Part of the answer, and it’s one Law hinted at, is that it appears Detroit was looking for a very specific combination of types of players when they set out to move a pitcher. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, via DJF,  on Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski and his process for this move: “Dave’s great to deal with, he’s very candid and up front– he just said, ‘We looked at all of the organizations, and we’re looking for certain players, and we don’t know that we line up in trade with you guys.’ … So it was one of those things where we didn’t necessarily line up in trade… “

To read more of this story, click here

The Dexter Fowler Trade in Mets Prospects/Assets

We’re going to play a fun game, match the Mets prospects/assets to those involved in trades for other teams. I don’t do this for every trade, only the ones that interest me for one reason or another.

Today we’ll take on the Rockies/Astros swap for Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.

Earlier this offseason, the Mets were rumored to be interested in trading Ike Davis for Dexter Fowler. On the same day they traded Fowler, the Rockies also “addressed” their first base hole, by signing Justin Morneau.

Fowler will be  28 in 2014, and has significant home road splits (.298/.395/.485 at Coors and .241/.333/.361 on the road in 1291 PA). He’s owed $7.35 million in 2014, and will be arbitration eligible in 2015 before becoming free agent for 2016. Still, he’s in the prime of his career, has been a league average hitter, and while the advanced metrics don’t like his work in center, he should be an asset defensively in a corner.

For the Mets, he would have been an improvement on Eric Young Jr. in the outfield at the least, and potentially much more. So, what did it take to bring him to the Astros?

Turns out, very little.

The right-handed Lyles was a good prospect in a bad Astros’ system who has never figured out the big leagues. Since making his big league debut in 2011, he owns a 5.35 ERA with 259 strikeouts against 117 walks in 377 innings with 431 hits allowed and a ERA+ of 74 (!) or an ERA- of 141 and a -2.8 bWAR overall. His Baseball America rankings rose from #6 after the 2008 season to #3 the following year to the top spot in the system after 2010 when he was the #42 prospect in baseball. Lyles has a four-seam fastball at 93 mph, a sinker at 92 mph, a slider in the upper 80s, a changeup at 83 and a curveball around 80-81 mph. He throws his two fastballs over 66% of the time combined. Every pitch he throws carries negative value at Fangraphs.

Lyles’ strikeout rates from the last three years have actually declined from 16.1% in 2011, to 15.8% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2013. Meanwhile, his walk rate has ticked up from 6.3% to 6.7% to 7.6% in the last three years. Lyles was a relatively low strikeout guy in AAA as well with a 14.4% strikeout rate in 2010 and 16.3% in 2011.

Lyles is young and has prospect pedigree. That’s about it. At ESPN, Keith Law argues that Lyles’ numbers have been hurt by throwing in front of Houston’s poor defenses the last few years, “… he has been below-average but above that replacement-level baseline when measured on his own performance. Lyles has a good feel for pitching and above-average control, suffering from his lack of any clear out pitch.”

The Mets do not have a Jordan Lyles – a failed former first round pitcher.

  1. Perhaps the closest the Mets’ current roster, offers, when taking into account only production, is Carlos Torres who bounced from the White Sox to the Rockies to the Mets in the last four seasons.
  2. Dillon Gee, who is older than Lyles, has been appreciably better, putting up a 2.2 bWAR in 2013 with a 3.80 RA9, his first year below 4.00.
  3. Jenrry Mejia had never really had any big league success either in 2010 or 2012, combined for a -0.1 bWAR between those two years. Then, in 2013, after returning from Tommy John surgery, he returned with better fastball command, more feel on his changeup and a new slider that helped him to a 2.30 ERA/2.96 RA9 and a 0.5 bWAR in just five starts.
  4. Statistically, perhaps the best match for Lyles in the Mets’ system is former second round pick Cory Mazzoni. in AA this past summer, Mazzoni had a strikeout rate of 26.2%, a 6.7% walk rate, an opponents’ batting average of .268 and a 4.36 ERA/2.70 FIP. In 2010 in AA, Lyles had a  21.3% strikeout rate, a 6.5% walk rate, a .266 opponents’ batting average, and a 3.12 ERA/3.36 FIP.

If we divorce position from the discussion, the Met most like Lyles – a former first rounder who has flopped in the big leagues recently – is the guy the Rockies were rumored to be interested in: Ike Davis. He hit just .205/.326/.334 in 2013 on his way to a 0.2 bWAR. That leaves out his productive, but short 2011, and his long slog through 2012 when he was still worth 0.9 bWAR.

The second player the Rockies acquired,, Brandon Barnes, who will be 28 in May 2014, is a 4th outfielder. He’s hit .233/.282/.330 in his two partial big league seasons in 2012 and 2013. Barnes is not as good as the 4th outfielder the Rockies traded to the Mets in 2013: Eric Young Jr., himself a career .258/.325/.338 hitter in 404 big league games.

If the Rockies were not interested in reacquiring Young, perhaps 25-year old Matt den Dekker (.207/.270/.276 in 63 PA) would have sparked their interest as an extra outfielder.

So, after picking up Lyles for the back of their rotation, and a Barnes for their bench, the Rockies signed Justin Morneau, who will turn 33 in 2014, for two years at $13 million. The great Dan Szymborski fired up his ZiPs machine to project “Morneau in Colorado 2014: 280/343/457, 104 OPS+ 0.9 WAR. 2015: 277/339/453, 102 OPS+, 0.5 WAR.”

Again, Morneau’s 2014 projection is awfully similar in bWAR to what Ike Davis actually produced in 2012. And Davis would probably be $3 to $5 million cheaper over the next two years. Of course, there’s that messy issue of 2013 as well.

From the Rockies perspective if they had done the deal with the Mets for say Ike Davis and Matt den Dekker for Fowler, they would have needed to add a starting pitcher from the free agent market or another trade. Those – free agent pitchers – are expensive, but most are better than Lyles. Also, Morneau is a safer bet than Davis, although Davis has more upside given their ages.

A package from the Mets centered around Dillon Gee for Dexter Fowler would have given the Rockies a better pitcher, although without the coveted “former Top Prospect” tag that Lyles carries.

Or maybe the Mets felt that they were better off committing the $7.25 million they would have had to pay Fowler to Chris Young, who will cost only money and not players. Still, the Mets have an open outfield spot remaining. An outfield of Juan Lagares/Young/Fowler, all three with centerfield pedigree, would have been very good defensively (and run a low batting average, but we digress).

Given the Rockies’ moves Tuesday, it certainly seems as though the Mets had the pieces to have acquired Dexter Fowler from Colorado. Fowler is younger than the remaining major free agent outfielders, like Curtis Granderson and Shin Soo Choo, and will require a fraction of the financial commitment.

Mets DFA Replacement-Level Players. Save $4 Million. Carry On.

The Mets designated five players for assignment two pitchers – Scott Atchison and Jeremy Hefner – and three position players – Justin Turner, Omar Quintanilla and Jordany Valdespin. I had both Scott Atchison and Omar Quintanilla, who were both arbitration eligible for the second time, and Justin Turner, who was arb eligible for the first time, projected to earn $1 million in 2014.

Jeremy Hefner and Jordany Valdespin would have been due Major League minimum contracts worth $500,000.

In sum, then, the Mets saved roughly $4 million off of the 2014 payroll by non-tendering these five players. None of the moves should have been the slightest bit surprising. Justin Turner was worth 0.5 fWAR last year. No quantity of clubhouse smiles makes him a key part of a winning baseball team. Quintanilla (-0.3 fWAR) and Valdespin (-0.4 fWAR) were both replacement level players.

Atchison was a low strikeout reliever (5.56 K/9) who was similarly below replacement level (-0.1 fWAR).

Hefner had his moments, but in an ERA where offense is declining, his 4.34 ERA over 23 starts only produced a 0.3 fWAR in 2013. Baseball Reference’s accounting suggests that he was below replacement level in 2012 (-0.3 WAR) and 2013 (-0.8 WAR). Given that he will miss all of the 2014 season with Tommy John surgery, he was just wasting a roster spot and half a million bucks to the 2014 Mets. Ideally, by 2015, the Mets will have less use for sub-replacement level pitchers.

My updated 2014 Mets payroll projection (Mets Payroll 12-2) now puts the Mets hard and soft commitments at $70.66 million. Again, that’s by evenly distributing Jason Bay’s $15 million between 2014 and 2015. If the team is really planning on exceeding last year’s $87 million salary number, they now must spend $17 million to do so.

The Mets also now have five open spots on the team’s 40-man roster.

Parsing the Mets Payroll 2: Mistakes and Additions

I spent time this morning revising my post below trying to make sense of the Mets’ payroll. This included reading the CBA, and that’s always a hoot.

Anyway, I believe my original point stands better now. If the Mets are to eclipse last year’s $87 million payroll, they must add only about $13 million in salary for 2014 given a current baseline.


Issues with the Previous Analysis
1. Buyouts are Signing Bonuses for Luxury Tax Purposes
EDIT:
First and foremost, I learned something: for the purposes of the competitive balance tax, buyouts get treated as signing bonuses, and are prorated over the guaranteed years of a player’s contract (CBA XXIII, E-5-b). Thus, Santana’s $5.5 million buyout was treated asa $0.92 bonus over the first six guaranteed years (FOR TAX PURPOSES). How that changes the Mets’ accounting on Bay and Santana, I have no idea, although I suspect not much.

As I now understand it, this does not change the way in which the teams pay out the buyout, which happens before an option year, just the way the CBA counts that buyout money against team payroll.


2. Don’t Forget Players
I left a few players who played for the Mets in 2013 out of my original post.

Omissions
I omitted Aaron Harang, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Aardsma, Rick Ankiel, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Laffey and Sean Henn from the Mets’ 2013 payroll for no other reason than I forgot about them. (Stands to reason, they were all awesome.) This octet combined for $1,081,600 in my estimation system, although I did not apply any adjustments to the minimum veterans’ salaries, so I suspect they earned more than that.

Service Time Adjustments
I credited Josh Edgin with a full season in the big leagues, and a full year of MLB salary when he spent all of May and the first week of June in the minors. This overstated his cost to the Mets by about $113,000.
I neglected to give Wilfredo Tovar credit for his week and a half in the big leagues and the extra ~$58k he earned that way.


Bottom Line
If I do nothing to my earlier signing bonus accounting, the tweaks I made to these 10 players pushed my estimate of the Mets’ 2013 payroll up to $88,410,960.
This includes all payments to players who were on the team’s 40-man roster, while they were in the majors and minors.
I have excluded the $0.25 million the Mets paid the Pirates as part of the John Buck/Marlon Byrd/Vic Black/Dilson Herrera swap and any other cash swaps as part of trades.

I’m still treating the buyouts as lump-sum payments due at the end of the guaranteed years. This is wrong relative to the CBA’s accounting, but matches when the bonuses are actually paid out in the real world. The next step will be correcting that. Again, here’s my working spreadsheet (Mets Payroll) if you want to play along.

I’m leaving this issue for the day. I believe that my original point is still valid. Sandy Alderson’s proclamations that the Mets’ 2014 payroll will exceed 2013′s $87 million commits the Mets to spending, at this point, a minimum of $13 million more and possibly $20 if Jason Bay’s impact is removed. So, Mets fans can and should expect to see the Mets adding some players and salary moving forward.

Of course, players are not only measured in salary, and the idea is to add good major league players. The Mets could use more of those whether they can play the outfield, SS, or pitch. Adding good or even great players in free agency is awfully expensive. And  that circles right back to the budget.

Parsing the Mets Payroll. An Ongoing Project … or the Ghost of Jason Bay and 2014

dollar-signLast week, Mets GM Sandy Alderson told the world that the Mets’ 2014 payroll would be higher than their 2013 payroll, calculated at $87 million. This was reported as major Mets news. It’s really just a promise to spend in the neighborhood of $15 million in additional money on the 2014 team.

Forget what you’ve read elsewhere about the Mets’ payroll flexibility this winter. It is exaggerated. The Mets already have over $70 million committed to their 2014 payroll already. They should surpass that $87 million with ease. In fact, that $87 million is just a floor, and a very low one given the team’s existing commitments.

I confess that November’s $87 million number was new to me, but that’s my fault. Alderson first used it at the Mets’ September 30 end-of-season press conference.

  1. Per Adam Rubin, at ESPNNY, “Alderson said excluding the money owed to former Met Jason Bay, the Mets payroll for this past season ended up around $87-88 million.
  2. At the New York Daily News, Kristie Ackert heard Alderson’s September comments as foreshadowing a similar payroll in 2014: “Alderson, who said the payroll will be around $87 million-$88 million, described himself as finally being free from financial constraints he has had to deal with…”
  3. Mike Puma in the New York Post, “Alderson said the Mets’ payroll this year — excluding the deferred payments still owed to Jason Bay — was in the $87 million to $88 million range. “

 

Baseball Prospectus’ invaluable Cot’s Contracts listed the Mets’ 2013 Opening Day payroll at $93,684,590. By shifting much of Jason Bay’s money from 2013 to 2014 and 2015, and carefully accounting for the team’s in-season moves, I could match the Mets’ own $87 million estimate.

I calculate:

  1. the Mets spent $87,582,860 on the team’s 40-man payroll in 2013. (There were many small adjustments that went into creating this estimate, so focus on the big numbers to the left, rather than a false sense of precision over the last dollar.)
  2. The team has over $74.5 million committed in 2014, depending a little on how Bay’s money is split between 2014 and 2015.

 

Process
First, a caveat: I was unable to duplicate the math that produced Cots Opening Day number precisely, but I could get close.

I credited minor league players, who were on the 40-man roster, but not in the big leagues as earning $39,900, as the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement demands. My estimate on Opening Day payroll landed $889,040 over Cots’ estimate, so I suspect Cots was shorting the minor leaguers a few bucks, perhaps by using an old minor league minimum. For our purposes, that wiggle room under $1 million is well within the margin of error.

The major discrepancy between the Mets’ accounting and Cots’ estimation is the treatment of Bay and Santana’s money. When the Mets released Bay last November, they owed him $21 million. Of that, $6 million was to be paid in 2013 while $15 million was to be paid out in 2014 and 2015 to be paid out in five installments. Cots included almost all of Jason Bay’s money in the 2013 number – a clear mistake – but did not include Johan Santana’s $5.5 million buyout.

At one time, like November 2012, the Mets planned to count all of Bay’s money – the scheduled $16 million salary, the $3 million buyout, and the $2 million that was left of his signing bonus –  against their 2013 budget. By September 2013, the Mets were excluding at least the $12-15 million the team still owes Jason Bay in 2014 and 2015 from 2013 payroll numbers, but including Santana’s buyout. In essence, the team was counting only their actual 2013 payroll obligations of $6,125,000 to Bay in 2013′s budget. That makes sense. But the team still owes Jason Bay lots and lots of money. Will that zombie-like, undead money return to the 2014 payroll? The 2015 payroll? I suspect the answer is yes.

To match the Mets’ own estimate of $87-$88 million on 2013 salaries, I made the following adjustments:

  1. added Santana’s $5.5 million buyout to his $26.5 million salary. (Note: as commenters have pointed out below, $5 million of Santana’s contract was deferred every year, and then is payable seven years after it was “earned.” The Mets will be paying Santana then until 2020. I treated all of Santana’s money as due in 2013. In truth, then, the Mets’ actually paid out $5 million less in 2013 than I have accounted for.)
  2. cut Bay’s 2013 compensation to $6.125 million
  3. Prorated everything to account for MLB service time. This includes:
    • the MLB contracts of DFA victims Collin Cowgill (45% of the season) and Brandon Lyon (53%)
    • the MLB contracts of traded players like John Buck, Marlon Byrd, Collin McHugh, Eric Young Jr. and Vic Black
    • the MLB and minor league time of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Mike Baxter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin, Zach Lutz, Robert Carson, Travid d’Arnaud, Wilmer Flores, Gonzalez Germen, Juan Lagares, Zack Wheeler, Omar Quinatanilla, Vic Black, Carlos Torres, Josh Satin, Andrew Brown, Matt den Dekker and Juan Centeno
    • I created an estimate of the percentage of the season a player spent on the active 25-man roster, and credited him with an MLB salary during that time, and assigned him a minor league salary for the rest of the year during which he was a Mets employee
  4. In the case of Nieuwenhuis, Lutz, Young, Torres, Carson, Satin and Brown and their ilk, all of whom had big league time prior to 2013, I used a minor league minimum of $80,000. The rules governing players like this, with big league time, but in their second or third season on a 40-man roster are complicated. Each player has an individualized salary floor depending on their previous season’s earnings, but for our purposes, whether they were making a prorated portion of $100,000 or $80,000 or something in between, in their minor league time, these numbers are close enough.

 

I made the following assumptions about the 2014 salaries:
1. ADDED IN $7.5 MILLION for JASON BAY. The Mets owe Jason Bay $15 million more after 2013. It could be that the team is splitting it $7.5 and 7.5 in the next two years or $6 million and $9 million, or some other more funky looking arrangement.
2. added arbitration raises to Arb2 players Dan Murphy ($6 M), Bobby Parnell ($3M),  Scott Atchison ($1 M) and Omar Quintanilla ($1 M) consistent with Baseball Reference’s projections.
3. added arbitration raises to Arb1 players Ike Davis ($4 M), Dillon Gee ($3 M), Lucas Duda ($2 M), Eric Young Jr. ($2 M), Ruben Tejada ($1 M) and Justin Turner ($1 M) again consistent with Baseball Reference’s  projections.
4. assigned Major League minimum salaries ($500,000) to the remainder of the Mets’ 40-man roster. In cases where the player had earned over $500,000 in any previous season, that player got credit for the extra salary (Scott Rice and Jeremy Hefner). This will deliberately understate the Mets’ 2014 payroll (but by less than a $1 million).  
5. I made no adjustments for projecting Major League roster time. So, in my analysis, a guy like Juan Centeno is carrying the full MLB minimum of $500,000 whereas he will probably begin the year in AAA, earning the minor league minimum for a player on his second 40-man year of $81,500. This type of adjustment is relevant for the last few roster spots in the bullpen and in the outfield. This will overstate the Mets’ 2014 payroll (but by less than $3 million.)

 

The Chart
The following chart explains all of this in numbers. The column on the left is the player’s Major League contract according to Cots. The middle column is an adjusted estimate of the player’s actual payroll to the 2013 Mets depending on my accounting of his time on the active 25-man roster. The final column is a projection for that player’s salary for the 2014 Mets.

 

 

Player20132013 Adj2014
Johan Santana25,500,00031,000,000
Jason Bay18,125,0006,125,0007,500,000
David Wright11,000,00011,000,00020,000,000
John Buck6,500,0005,265,000FA
Frank Francisco6,500,0006,500,000FA
Shaun Marcum4,000,0004,000,000FA
Ike Davis3,125,0002,668,2504,000,000
Jon Niese3,050,0003,050,0005,050,000
Dan Murphy2,925,0002,925,0006,000,000
Bobby Parnell1,700,0001,700,0003,000,000
LaTroy Hawkins1,000,0001,000,000FA
Brandon Lyon750,000402,750DFA (7/9/13)
Scott Atchison700,000700,0001,000,000
Marlon Byrd700,000567,000FA (Phi)
Greg Burke550,000550,000FA (Col)
Scott Rice535,000535,000535,000
Dillon Gee527,375527,3753,000,000
Lucas Duda519,240453,3542,000,000
Ruben Tejada514,701345,1671,000,000
Justin Turner504,547504,5471,000,000
Jeremy Hefner500,625500,625500,625
Mike Baxter500,318391,035DFA
Matt Harvey498,750498,750500,000
Kirk Nieuwenhuis498124231200500000
Jordany Valdespin496,645304,000500,000
Jenrry Mejia494,925494,925500,000
Josh Edgin493,500493,500500,000
Collin Cowgil493250221962Trade
Jeurys Familia491750491750500,000
Anthony Recker490840490840500,000
Zach Lutz49,0040160,000500,000
Robert Carson39,900160,000DFA (LAA)
Travis dArnaud39,900154,326500,000
Wilmer Flores39,900180,732500,000
Gonzalez Germen39,900237,945500,000
Juan Lagares39,900431,589500,000
Collin McHugh39,90065,145Trade
Cesar Puello39,90026,73381,500
Hansel Robles39,90039,900DFA
Wilfredo Tovar39,90039,90081,500
Zack Wheeler39,900299,559500,000
Chris YoungOAK7,250,000
Eric Young307,2002,000,000
Omar Quintanilla356,0001,000,000
Vic Black76,800500,000
Carlos Torres320,000500,000
Josh Satin332,000500,000
Andrew Brown320,000500,000
Matt den Dekker95,000500,000
Juan Centeno35,000500,000
Jacob deGrom040,750
Erik Goeddel040,750
Steven Matz040,750
Jeff Walters040,750
 
 
Toby Total94,573,63087,582,86074,661,625
Cots Number93,684,590
 
 

 

Here’s the major takeaway: Bay’s contract really matters.
By removing the remainder of Jason Bay’s contract from the 2013 accounting and shifting it evenly to 2014 and 2015, the Mets can add as little as $13 million in net payroll to their 40-man roster as currently constructed, to make Alderson’s statement that the team would exceed last year’s $87 million in payroll, true. Or they could just count more of Jason Bay’s money against 2014.

Using the same assumption about splitting Bay’s money evenly, if the Mets do successfully trade Ike Davis and DFA Jordany Valdespin and Zach Lutz, for example, they would remove $5 million in payroll. In this scenario, they would need to add $18 million in payroll to exceed 2013′s number.

Even imagining a world where the Mets’ future commitments to Jason Bay just disappear from the 2014 and 2015 calculations, Alderson’s recent public statements hardly suggest a free-spending Mets. Removing all of Bay’s money from 2014 takes the team’s current commitments down to $67 million. At that point, the team would need to spend $20 million to surpass 2013′s payroll level.

The playing time adjustments to the 2013 salaries are much less important in the overall accounting than the $5.5 million of Santana’s buyout and the $15 million of deferred money to Jason Bay. Still, they matter. Assigning a full MLB minimum to every player who played for the Mets in 2013 would overstate payroll by a few million. In the same way, ignoring the mostly young players would shuffled on and off the roster totally would understate payroll.

The magnitude of any individual arbitration award is not terribly important. All could be, and likely will be, a little off from my estimate, but given that the Mets have enough arbitration-eligible players – six in their first year, and four in their second – it should all more or less cancel out. Thus, my final payroll estimate for 2014, which assigns an increase of $13.5 million for these ten players, is not too sensitive to any single arbitration salary. It also seems likely that one or two of these arbitration-eligible players will be traded before Opening Day 2014.

The Mets structured David Wright’s salary as $11 million in 2013 and then $20 million in 2014. In a world where the Mets are not significantly expanding payroll that $9 million increase eats away at the team’s flexibility.

This is not supposed to be encouraging. It also explains, in part, why the Mets never went really hard after say, Jhonny Peralta, a useful player who fit their needs, but who signed a contract worth $13 million annually with St. Louis.

This analysis has not really touched on what the Mets need to do to build a contending team out of a group that won 74 games in 2013 and will be approaching 2014 without Matt Harvey, its best pitcher. It just explains the minimum they need to do to make Sandy Alderson’s statements regarding an increase in payroll from 2013 to 2014 from September and November 2013 true.

Alderson has promised a minimum of $13 million net spending after adding Chris Young on the 2014 roster moving forward. The real questions is how much beyond the $13 million minimum, the Mets have to spend AND relatedly, how they are accounting for Jason Bay’s money. Can they get to $100 million through free agency or trades? Or build a winner on less?

 

Further Research and Resources
The spreadsheet I used to calculate salaries based on roster time is here (Mets Payroll) if you would like to explore it yourself or check my math. I  color-coded the guys who are arbitration eligible to track how those awards or negotiations changes the overall budget outlook.
The full text of the CBA is here.
The Mets’ 2013 transactions are here.

Signing Chris Young is a Solid Step

Chris+Young+Oakland+AthleticsThe Mets have reportedly come to terms with OF Chris Young on a one-year, $6 million contract for 2014. ESPN places the value of the contract at $7.25 million.

Young, who turned 30 in September, had a bad 2013 with Oakland, hitting .200/.280/.379 with 18 doubles, 12 homers, 36 walks and 93 strikeouts in 107 games. He was worth 0.2 bWAR and 0.5fWAR. And yet, this is a solid signing.

Young was a very productive player from 2010-11 with the Diamondbacks, putting up fWAR of 4.1 and 4.5 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and bWAR of 5.5 and 5.0 for those same seasons. (The point is not that one WAR system is right or wrong, but that they both saw his contributions in 2010-11 as in the range of “very good.”) He hit a little above average, running a wRC+ of 109 and 102 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, combined with excellent defense in center. Young was, at that time, the player Mets’ fans hope Juan Lagares can be.

Young’s 2012, his age 28 season, was not as strong as his previous two years. He started late with a right shoulder separation and then his September was interrupted by a quad strain.  Still, his offensive contribution in 2012 (98 wRC+) was close to 2011′s level (102). The difference was largely the result of a slight erosion in his walk rate from 12.1% in 2011 to 9.9% in 2012 and a decline in his BABIP from .296 in 2010, to .275 in 2011 to .263 in 2012. His defense in CF 2012, by UZR/150, graded out even better than in his two-season 2010-11 peak.

In 2013 everything got worse. His walk rate slipped a tick down to 9.6%, his lowest rate since 2008, while his strikeout rate climbed to 24.8%, his highest rate since 2009. His BABIP of .237 was his lowest of his Major League career. His BABIP drop can be significantly explained by the decline in Young’s ground ball percentage, which went from 33.7% in 2010 to 28.6% by 2013. That 5% drop was more or less replaced by infield fly balls in his batted ball profile. Why the change in batted ball profile? Was he cheating to get under pitches to drive them and instead popping them up? Was he dipping his back shoulder? Dropping his hands? I don’t know, but I would wager that there is a mechanical swing explanation. In 2013, for the first time in his career, his production on fastballs, per 100 pitches was negative. Defensively, he was a plus corner outfielder by UZR, but below average in center in only 381 innings – the equivalent of a quarter of a season.

The decline in Young’s 2013 walk rate can be explained by his in/out zone swing percentages. In 2013, his O-swing%, that is the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which he swung, was a career-high 28.3%. In his 2010, 11, and 12 that number was 22%, 26.5% and then 24.7%. In 2013, his Z-Swing %, that his the percentage of strikes at which he swung was 61.8%, also a career-high, narrowly edging out 2011.

Over the span of his career, he has a significant platoon split, bopping lefties at a .262/.363/.474 rate in 1138 PA while hitting .225/.295/.415 against righties in 2825 PA.

To return to his 2010-2012 peak, he will need to cut down on chasing pitches out of the zone. That sounds like Mets’ hitting coach Dave Hudgens’ strong teaching suit. Increased selectivity for Young could bring his infield popup rate back down.

Is Chris Young worth $7.25 million on a one-year deal? Most assuredly so. David Murphy just signed a two-year $12 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. Murphy was every bit as bad as Young in 2013 (.220/.282/.374, 73 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR) if not worse. Murphy’s two years older and his best season (2012) was not as good as Young’s best (2010 and 2011). Young is better than Murphy, younger and comes with a lower total dollar amount.

The price of real MLB outfielders, coming off down years, in their age 30-32 seasons, who can play good defense, have platoon splits and nearly four-win seasons on their resume is now apparently $6 million-ish per year.

Chris Young could certainly perform better for the Mets in 2014 than he did in Oakland in 2013. Any return towards his 2010-2012 form will help the blue and orange. His signing makes the 2014 Mets a little bit better. It does not make them a favorite in the NL East or for a wild card slot. It just makes them incrementally better. As a first step to a more productive outfield, Young fits the bill. Even if Young does not hit better in 2014 than he did in 2013, or he gets hurt, or both, there is absolutely zero long term risk. The Mets have not attached themselves to Young’s decline phase past his age-30 year and the 2014 season.

If the Mets put Young in an outfield corner, say right, they can expect above average defense, and a very dangerous bat against left-handed pitching. Ideally, the Mets would pair him with a lefty hitting outfielder who can play against many of the right-handed pitchers the team will face to produce better value out of the same corner outfield spot. An outfield that begins with Juan Lagares in center and Chris Young in right, should be well above average defensively.

Also, as the picture at right makes clear, Young has outstanding choice in hosiery, which is almost as important as whether a baseball player can hit, field, and run the bases.