Entering Tuesday, all but four members of the Mets’ healthy members of the Mets’ 40-man roster will be in the big leagues. Every healthy pitcher and catcher is in the big leagues already. The four exceptions: 3B/2B/1B Wilmer Flores, 2B Reese Havens, CF Cesar Puello and OF Juan Lagares. Neither CF Matt den Dekker nor RHP Zack Wheeler are on the Mets’ 40-man roster.
Flores, hit .300/.349/.479 overall between advanced-A and AA with 30 doubles and 18 homers and 38 walks against 60 strikeouts in 130 games. In the month he turned 21, he bashed .377/.436/.632 in AA with 5 homers, 10 walks and 15 strikeouts in 28 games in August. The man can hit. However, he is still looking for a position. On the 2012 Mets, he would not have played third base over David Wright, second over Daniel Murphy or first over Ike Davis. He should make his Major League debut sometime in the 2013 season after beginning the year in AAA. The position he’ll play when he makes his MLB is still unclear, but he’ll hit.
Puello, playing the whole year as as 21-year old, hit .260/.328/.423 in 66 games in advanced-A. I still really like the tools, but that’s not close to MLB ready.
After a slow start, Lagares recovered to hit .283/.334/.389 in 130 games in AA with nice defense at all three outfield spots. The 23-year old Lagares, who bats from the right side, beat lefties at a .331/.379/.474 clip in 133 AB, while hitting for little power against righties (.265/.318/.358 – 366 AB). He would be a nice right-handed piece of a platoon for any of the Mets’ left-handed swinging outfielders.
Reese Havens at age 25 in AA: .215/.340/.351 with 113 strikeouts in 94 games. That 40-man roster spot is shaky.
There was no reason to call up den Dekker. As a member of the 2010 draft class, the 25-year old is not rule eligible yet and after raking in AA (.340/.397/.563) struggled badly in AAA (.220/.256/.373 with 90 strikeouts in 77 games).
As for the 22-year old Wheeler, the Mets shut him down after 149 combined innings between AA and AAA. That’s a 34-inning jump over a year ago when he worked exclusively at the advanced-A level for the Mets and Giants. He told Adam Rubin of ESPNNY, that he could feel the extra strain on his arm.
Wheeler’s stuff is electric, but he still must improve his control. He walked 12% of the opposing batters he faced at AAA. Unlike many high school draftees, Wheeler was 19 when he signed in 2009, so he will be rule 5 eligible for the first time this year forcing the Mets to add him to the 40-man roster this off-season. As long as he’s healthy, he will make his MLB debut in 2013.
Now that the Bisons’ season is over, the Mets added eight players to the active big league roster two over the weekend (Collin McHugh and Mike Nickeas), and six more after Monday’s game who fall into three classes: those guys who have already seen big league time in 2012 (Jordany Valdespin, Elvin Ramirez), those who needed to be added to the 40-man roster (OF Fred Lewis and LHP Justin Hampson) and those who will either make their MLB or 2012 debut in the coming days (RHP Jenrry Mejia and RHP Jeurys Familia). Mejia and Familia will get their own post to follow.
Collin McHugh, who made his second big league start on Labor Day Monday, has already made his introduction to the Mets. C Mike Nickeas and his .168/.241/.228 line in 42 games in the big leagues is also back. For what it’s worth, Nickeas hit .364/.405/.500 in 22 games in AAA this year with six walks and nine strikeouts. There’s a song about that.
The 40-Man Roster Additions
The Mets added two players to the team’s 40-man roster: OF Fred Lewis and LHP Justin Hampson. The 29-year old Lewis was the Bisons’ team MVP after the Mets signed him in late April. He hit .294/.379/.482 in 108 games with 46 extra-base hits, 57 walks and 113 strikeouts overall. Lewis is fast; he was 25 of 33 stealing bases in Buffalo this year, but is limited to a corner defensively. Also, he’s limited because he cannot hit lefthanders. He hit .217/.291/.302 versus lefties in 117 PA this year in AAA while bashing righties at a .319/.408/.543 rate in 360 PA. These numbers are consistent with Lewis’ MLB track record, where he is a .267/.345/.406 batter in 1738 PA with a .780 OPS against righties and a .622 oPS against lefties as part of a .233/.311/.312. What’s he doing in the big leagues now? Great question. I’d suggest that it’s most a reward for a strong 2012. He’s a limited enough outfielder that he is not likely to be any kind of solution for the Mets in 2013 or beyond for a team that already has the younger, and under control Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda.
The 32-year old Hampson had a nice year out of the Bisons’ bullpen: 2.33 ERA, 65.2 IP, 22 BB, 5 HR. Before the Mets called him up earlier this year, he had not thrown a big league pitch since 2008. He’d been through shoulder surgery and a year’s tenure with the independent Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League in 2010. For what it’s worth, Hampson had a reverse platoon split in AAA this year when lefties hit .289/.346/.433 in 109 PA compared to righties who hit .227/.287/.292 in 168 PA. This was not the case in his previous big league work when he had a “normal” platoon split when lefties hada .629 OPS while righties had a .778 OPS against him. Perhaps some of his success against right-handers has to do with an increased reliance on his cutter which he threw 37% of the time in 2007, 50% of the time in 2008 and 64% of the timefa (21 of 33 MLB and SSS warning!) in 2012. Hampson does not throw hard – he lives in the upper eighties with his fastball. He’s an interesting addition to the 40-man roster now for a bullpen that has the second-worst ERA in baseball (4.77) in 2012.
The 2012 Returnees
RHP Elvin Ramirez just was not MLB ready his first two times around in June and August: 12.1 IP, 15 H, 10 ER, 11 BB, 10 K – 7.30 ERA. Here’s the bad news, his control is still not ready. In 14.1 IP over 12 appearances in Buffalo, he’s walked 11 batters while fanning 14. He throws hard. That’s good. He can’t control it. That’s not.
2B/CF/LF Jordany Valdespin played in four games for AAA Buffalo since his return from New York, all at second. At the dish, he was 4-for-16 with three walks and three strikeouts. He’s the same guy who has a .282 MLB on-base percentage, just with four more games at second base.
Everyone’s talking about 3B/2B/1B Wilmer Flores again. Of course a month when a 20-year old hits .380/.436/.609 with 13 extra-base hits, nine walks and 12 strikeouts in AA tends to prompt that.
Kevin Goldstein writing at Baseball Prospectus on Monday:
On the surface, at least on a statistical level, Flores has had an impressive rebound season. … Finally off of shortstop, Flores has split time between second base, where he just doesn’t have the athleticism to play, and third base, where he’s below average, but acceptable, yet just doesn’t have the power to profile. He’s certainly better, and certainly still very young, but he’s turned into a bit of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
Matt Eddy at Baseball America:
….but the power projections of his youth no longer appear greatly exaggerated as they once did.
I think Goldstein is on point regarding the idea of “Wilmer Flores, second baseman.” I still have not talked to a scout who thinks he will have the range to play there in the big leagues.
There are scouts who have seen Flores at third, who think he can play there. He’s not good there yet, but he might hit enough to make up for it.
The question I have is what else Flores has to do to show that he has power. He hit his 17th home run of the year Tuesday. I think his power will play at third. A careful review of current MLB 3B suggest Flores has shown plenty of game power- given his age – to hang with this group.
As a whole, MLB 3B have hit .263/.326/.424 this year. Within that group, 23 MLB 3B with 250 or more PA this year, have an wRC+ of 100 or greater where 100 is league average; 12 are above 120 wRC+.
Of this group of average or better offensive third basemen only THREE, were 1. playing professional baseball at age 20, and 2. hit more homeruns than Wilmer Flores in his age 20 season. This is a dynamite list: Miguel Cabrera, who ripped 22 while jumping from AA to the big leagues as a 20-year old, Eric Chavez, who hit 33 between AA and AAA, and Alex Rodriguez who hit 20 in the big league with the Mariners. Two other guys, Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre made their MLB debuts in their age 20 season. There are two Hall-of-Famers in that group and Jay Jaffe points out that Beltre is not that far away.
Here is a partial list of notable MLB third basemen who Flores has outhomered at age 20, while playing at the same level or higher: David Wright, Chipper Jones, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Brett Lawrie, Mike Moustakas and Brett Lawrie.
Flores still has work to do at third. I still think he has the hands and arm for the spot. He’s still learning though.
The questions about his power just seem outdated.
My chart of MLB 3B and their age-20 power production is below the jump.
To read more of this story, click here
Wednesday, the Mets placed RHP Collin McHugh on the team’s taxi squad. He’ll be ready just in case Johan Santana, coming off an MRI on Tuesday, cannot make his scheduled start on Thursday.
Here is the argument: Collin McHugh will be better than Dillon Gee.
Compare their work in AAA. For Gee, this was largely his age 24 season, with two starts as a 25-year old, while for McHugh this is his age 25 season.
Note, but do not focus too narrowly on the fact that McHugh’s ERA was over a run and a third better in AAA in the basic table. Skip to the advanced table where the pitchers had very similar strikeout rates. However, McHugh walked an extra batter per nine, while giving up fewer hits and a similar, if lower homerun rate.
In some way, that comparison is a little unfair to Collin McHugh. He was hit hard over three outings in AAA in June (7.07 ERA, 14 IP, 13 H, 12 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 15 K), but has been much better since. In his last nine starts, he’s run a 2.45 ERA with four homeruns allowed in 55 IP (0.7 HR/9) and just 7.2 H/9. He’s walked fewer batters (3.1 BB/9) and struck out guys at essentially the same rate 8.5 K/9.
McHugh also has a similar number of weapons to Gee, but deploys them in a different manner, relying more on breaking balls rather than the changeup. McHugh uses both a two-seam and four-seam fastball (88-91, touching 92), a curveball, a cutter/slider thing at 86 mph and a changeup. In the Arizona Fall League, by pitchfx, McHugh was throwing his breaking balls – the curve and slider – a combined 35% of the time. In the big leagues, Dillon Gee has thrown his breaking stuff, slider and curve 18% of the time. Gee reliees on his changeup, which he throws 23% of the time, compared to McHugh’s 6%. Add it all up, and McHugh, in Arizona, threw non-fastballs 41% of the time, the same as Gee.
The key for me is that McHugh was giving up fewer hits and fewer homeruns in AAA as compared to Gee indicating that hitters were having more trouble squaring up his stuff. This ability to mix and keep hitters off-balance will make him better than Gee in the big leagues. Do not get crazy, McHugh is a back-end type starter, in the same class as Gee, just with a smidge ahead. And the Mets, or any team, cannot have too many cheap, backend rotation options. Ever.
Other McHugh Reading
- His personal, excellent blog.
- I had him ranked #26 on my pre-season Top 41 Prospects List
- He talked to Ted about Pitching and Tweeting.
We’ve been spending a lot of time writing about off-field affiliation issues with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, so I wanted to return to what’s happening on the field, and focus on the starting pitching. This was the plan even before Monday’s late night news that Johan Santana was going to have a Tuesday MRI to check on his “tight” back.
And now a check on your AAA options to replace Santana, just in case.
On the strength of back-to-back good starts in which he allowed one run over 12.2 innings against the Pawtucket Red Sox, RHP Collin McHugh was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Week. McHugh was particularly sharp in Fenway on Saturday: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. It was his first walkless outing in 12 tries in the International League. McHugh’s adjustment to AAA is reflected in his strikeout to walk rate which has improved in the International League by month: June 1.9 (15 K/8 BB), July 2.3 (34 K/13 BB) and August 3 (18 BB, 6 K). It so happens that if Santana cannot take his start on Thursday, McHugh would be lined up. He’s generally 88-91 with his fastball, although he can touch 92 with a full arsenal that includes a curveball, a slider, a cutter and a changeup. I get the Dillon Gee comparison, they’re both right-handed pitchers from small schools without big fastballs, picked in 18-21st rounds, who could fit at the back end of a rotation. However, I think McHugh actually has more weapons than Gee did when he arrived in the big leagues.
The Mets would have to add Collin McHugh to the 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the rule five draft, so there’s a real chance the 2008 18th round pick will be added in-season and make an appearance or three for the big club.
I watched almost all of Jeurys Familia’s start on Sunday. He’s doing better, but still having big-time trouble locating his fastball. It’s that simple. His line on Sunday: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K. His name keeps popping up as someone the Mets might bring up in September since he’s on the 40-man roster, and he has that big arm (94-96 regularly) but he’s just not ready to help an MLB team. The 72 walks in 124 innings (5.2 BB/9) should make that plain.
Monday, was the Chris Schwinden experience: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 2 HR. He’s only coming back to the big leagues in an emergency.
RHP Zack Wheeler is scheduled to throw in the Bisons’ day game on Tuesday, while RHP Jenrry Mejia is scheduled for Wednesday. Wheeler, the Mets top prospect is not ready either. He’s walked 7 batters in 15.2 innings in his three AAA starts and struggled to locate his fastball consistently. It’s a special fastball, and he has a hardbreaking slider and curve, but the Mets are not going to promote him to make a spot start after just three AAA appearances.
As for Mejia, his 1.05 ERA as a starter is a little deceptive as his line includes seven unearned runs so his total runs/9 is 2.89. More to the point he as a K/BB of 15/10 in 34.1 innings as a starter. He still needs the AAA innings to refine his location and his secondary offerings as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery and Jerry Manuel abuse.
Taken together, it’s pretty clear that if Santana cannot make his start on Thursday, Collin McHugh should make his big league debut.
In 2012, the Buffalo Bisons are averaging a franchise-worst 6,992 fans per game. It is the first time the team has been below 7,000 in the 25 years of Coca-Cola Field. Do not blame the Mets.
Rather, this disappointing result, down from a high of 17,235 per game back in 1991, is the culmination of a slide that has lasted over two decades. That’s average attendance on the y-axis matched by year on the x-axis.
The uncomfortable truth for Buffalo is that the team’s attendance was way down from their late-80s and early 90s highs even before the Mets arrived in 2009.
There have been good years and bad years, but since the ballpark opened, the Bisons’ attendance has declined by an average of 3.8% over the previous year. Just seven times in 24 tries has the team increased their attendance on the previous season. One of those cases came in 2010, in the second year as a Mets’ affiliate. Perhaps the fans were responding a little bit to a better team on the field, as the 2010 team finished 76-68, a far cry from 2009′s miserable 56-87.
The role of that 2009 team, the Mets first in Buffalo deserves a brief examination. Bisons’ attendance was more or less flat in the middle years of the last decade as the team averaged between 8,768 and 8,947 fans from 2004 through 2008 in the final five years as a Cleveland affiliate. However, when the Mets put their first clunker of a team in Buffalo in 2009, attendance declined 8.9% on average versus 2008, the third largest annualized decline in Coca-Cola Field. One plausible theory is that the 2009 team soured Buffalo the town, and Buffalo the organization on the Mets. However, I find that theory incomplete at best. First, as Jess G. pointed out on Twitter, that the economic crisis of 2008 surely had a carryover into attendance in 2009. Second, the relationship between winning and attendance is very, very weak. In the final three years of their player development contract, the Mets did a much better job stocking Buffalo with AAA veterans along the lines of Valentino Pascucci, Matt Tuiasosopo and Fred Lewis on the position side.
Winning and Attendance
How weak is the relationship between winning and attendance in minor league baseball? Lets examine Buffalo.
Winning percentage is on the x-axis and attendance per game is on the y-axis. What’s happening here? Not much. There’s a weak positive correlation between a team’s winning percentage and that year’s attendance, but nothing that would sustain the argument that a winning team on the field will put more fans in the seats that summer.
The Bisons might be more interested in a stronger regional affiliation with the Jays. It is under two hours from Coca-Cola Field to Rogers Centre without traffic whereas it is almost seven to drive to Citi Field. Few New Yorkers were spending 14 hours to drive roundtrip to Buffalo. How many Torontans will spend the roughly four hours to drive round-trip to Buffalo? That’s a more palatable weekend trip for a baseball junkie. So probably a few more, but I would expect a negligible increase in the grand scheme of team attendance – hardly enough to off-set the Bisons’ two-decade attendance slide.
Toronto has a strong farm system. Coming into the year, Baseball America had them ranked #5 in the game, while ESPN.com had them at #3. Writing at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein said before the season that “Some elite position players and a cadre of young high-ceiling pitchers make Toronto the envy of every team in baseball.”
The Blue Jays, over their current PDC setup in Las Vegas, have finished over .500 once in four tries. This year for example, in that highly touted Jays system, the AAA team in Las Vegas is 73-55, while the double-A team in 53-74. Both of the a-ball teams in Lansing and Dunedin own winning percentages over .580. Las Vegas finished two games under .500 in 2011 while New Hampshire was 12-over. Moving back to 2010, Vegas was 12-games under .500, while New Hampshire was 17 over. In 2009, Vegas was two games under, while New Hampshire was 14 games under.
In choosing Toronto over New York, the Bisons will leave the US’ largest media market for Canada’s and the New York City metro area of over 18 million people for the Toronto metro area of almost 6 million people. For what it’s worth, even with the Mets own attendance slide, the Mets are still out drawing the Jays 29,487 to 27,851 per game this year.
A good farm system does not automatically translate into winning records for affiliates, nor do winning records do not translated into attendance jumps for the affiliates.
This move cannot be about winning and losing games for the Bisons. Instead, it could be about geography and relationships.
Friday, Jim Madelaro in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the Twins and Red Wings will sign a new Player Development Contract that will cover the 2013 and 2014 baseball season.
In an accompanying opinion piece, Mandalaro writes that this was the logical move for Rochester, “But the “best” club that figures to be available is the Mets, and they’re about to get kicked out of Buffalo after getting ejected from Norfolk and New Orleans. Wings officials are wary about hitching their wagon to the Mets, and I don’t blame them.” He’s right on two of the three counts. The Mets were thrilled to leave New Orleans for Buffalo, but yes, the other two affiliations with International Leagues were ended by the affiliate and not the Mets.
That leaves one pair of Major League-International League team pairing without a contract for 2013: the New York Mets and the Buffalo Bisons. The Mets and Bisons could still each decide that they want to renew, but the decision has to be mutual. The Bisons must want the Mets in addition to the Mets wanting to stay in Buffalo.
If the Bisons decide to cast their lot with another major league team – the Blue Jays are the obvious choice – based on the cities’ geographic proximity and the Jays strong farm system, the Mets will be forced into an affiliation in the Pacific Coast League. The Blue Jays have been affiliated with the Las Vegas 51s, so Vegas will be open. Vegas is just an awful place to develop pitching. The ball flies and the infield baked into a hard surface. Las Vegas as a team this year, is hitting .304/.371/.456 in a PCL that averages .279/.346/.432. At home, the 51s have hit .313/.386/.487. Yikes.
According to Baseball America, Memphis (St. Louis), Nashville (Milwaukee), New Orleans (Miami), Oklahoma City (Houston) and Tucson (San Diego) are also without new PDC contracts for 2013 yet. Memphis and St. Louis have a strong relationship and seem unlikely to split. Nashville, with a new ballpark likely on the way, and in the central time zone, is the prize of the remaining options. The Mets have a relationship with New Orleans having played there in 2007 and 2008. Zephyrs Field is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League. If New Orleans would be willing to engage with the Mets again on a short-term basis, that would be the best fit.
Moving back to the PCL is logistically more difficult for the Mets. Need a player? Ok, but he’s in Fresno. The travel for team staff to see the AAA would become significantly more arduous. Oh, and Las Vegas is a wonderful place to put up offensive numbers but a bad, bad place to pitch.
Patrick Flood says almost everything about why the Mets traded for C Kelly Shoppach from the Red Sox:
Because he’s a catcher and has hit .270/.364/.530 against left-handed pitching during his career.
Ted Berg uses more words, and points out that the timing is odd.
Shoppach is eligible for free agency after the season, so unless the Mets believe he’ll accept arbitration, he doesn’t factor in their plans for 2013. And though he makes the team ever-so-slightly better for the next couple of months, he’s hardly enough to catapult them back into the Wild Card race from nine games out.
Shoppach is clearly an upgrade on any of the right-handed hitting catchers in the organization. But Ted is right to ask “why now?”
I have two potential answers:
1. this is an extended tryout period for Shoppach to determine if the Mets are interested in retaining him for next year. Terry Collins suggested this was likely.
2. The Mets hope to trade him further up the food chain in the National League in the next month.
How likely is #2?
The Mets’ situation with Shoppach is directly analogous to that of Scott Hairston. Both are useful bench or platoon players who, given their trouble hitting right-handed pitching are not everyday answers. Both are free agents at the end of the year, and by definition part of the future. If the Mets view both players as part of the answer in 2013 and beyond, they can and should try to lock them up rather cheaply. Otherwise the team should be interested in trading both players.
Here’s how this works. Waiver claim priority is in reverse order by record, separated by league. So, all of the American League passed on Shoppach when he was put on waivers, as did all of the National League teams with worse records than the Mets (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Miami, San Diego, Chicago, Colorado and Houston).
Could the Mets flip Shoppach to a National League team in contention for the playoffs (Washington, Cincinnati, LA, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis or Arizona)?
Lets look at those teams’ catcher production by OPS.
SF – .861
St. L – .817
AZ – .809
ATL – .779
LA – .771
PIT – .726
CIN – .695
WAS – .626
Three of the four teams at the top of the list have stars behind the dish. You’ve heard of the work of Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. Miguel Montero is a borderline star for Arizona.
Even so, Arizona would be a perfect fit. The Snakes have picked up a very nice season from Miguel Montero (.283/.394/.466) while Henry Blanco, who’s now 40, has hit about as much as you would expect (.188/.224/.281). Wil Nieves, the current backup, is a career .227/.273/.300 batter in 879 MLB plate appearances. Montero could use a lefty-masher as a platoon-partner. He’s hitting but .223/.322/.388 against lefties in 118 PA despite a .309/.423/.500 assault on righties. Arizona is six games back in the wild card chase, and 5.5 in the division, so they had better start winning in a hurry to catch the Giants and Dodgers in front of them.
Cincinnati has Ryan Hannigan, and he has beaten up lefties at a .346/.443/.423 rate in 62 PA this year. At 24, Devin Mesoraco has not hit much, but he’s supposed to be the catcher of the future in Cincy.
The Washington catching situation is a mess, following Wilson Ramos’ knee surgery, which has sidelined him for the year. Former Mets farmhand Jesus Flores has hit .219/.253/.314 in 71 games at age 27. Ramos did hit .265/.354/.398 when he was around. The Nationals addressed this shortcoming by adding Kurt Suzki, who’s now 28, from the A’s. They made their move.
In Pittsburgh, 27-year old Michael McHenry has been really good (.283/.360/.566 – 53 games) while Rod Barajas has stunk (.194/.268/.331). In 37 PA vs. lefties this year, McHenry has .367/.459/.767 while for his career, he’s a more modest, but still useful .250/.352/.458 in 90 MLB Pa.
Behind the plate in LA, AJ Ellis has had a very nice season (.279/.392/.431 in 91 games) while backup Matt Treanor (.186/.273/.314) at least has a wife who won Olympic Gold. Ellis does not have major platoon splits.
The list of contending National League teams who could reasonably use Shoppach’s services is actually surprisingly small.
So, maybe the Mets can ship Shoppach to Arizona for Justin Upton. Ok, that’s not happening. Maybe for a live arm instead?
Or you know, the Mets could offer Shoppach arbitration coming off a year when he signed a one-year $1.35 million contract with the Red Sox. I doubt he’d accept, because at over six years of service time, having made just under $11 million in his six years in the big leagues, he’d be looking for at least a two-year deal. He stayed on a one-year deal this time because he was coming off a season when he had a .607 OPS with Tampa Bay in 2011. At .798 and counting in 2012, he’ll be looking for a little more security this time around.
The Brooklyn Cyclones, who lead the New York Penn League in ERA at 2.48 had four pitchers selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star game, starters RHP Gabriel Ynoa, RHP Hansel Robles and RHP Luis Mateo and reliever LHP John Mincone.
Ynoa is third in the NYP in innings pitched, second in WHIP (0.84) and fifth in opponents’ batting average (.196) and fifth in opponents’ walk rate among starters (1.15 BB/9). For the year, he’s 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA with 45 strikeouts against seven walks. I saw him at 90-92, touching 93 in his first start of the year, with the ability to spin a below average slider for a strike. That’s plenty of stuff to succeed in the New York Penn League. He’s just 19, and the Cyclones press release claims he’s the “youngest starting pitcher in franchise history” so there’s a little bit of projection left for him. I view him as a back-end type rotation guy if everything works out and his secondary offerings progress.
Mateo leads the New York Penn League with 67 strikeouts in 54.1 innings pitched, the fourth-most innings on the circuit. Among starters, Mateo has the second-highest strikeout rate (11.10 K/9) behind only teammat Rainy Lara and has the fourth-lowest walk rate (0.99 BB/9). Overall, he’s 4-4 with a 2.82 ERA. I saw him at 90-95 over the course of 5.2 innings. He was mostly 92-92 with a slider that was 88-90. I, and other professionals behind home plate, had trouble even identifying the pitch. That’s not a good sign. With inconsistent velocity, a full-effort delivery, and two potential plus pitches, I see a bullpen pitcher for Mateo if he ever reaches the big leagues.
Robles is fourth in the NYP in ERA (1.74) with a K/BB over 7 (44 K/6 BB) in 46.2 innings. Apparently, he was up to 94-95 in his last start and mixed in a changeup according to NY Penn League Report’s Dave Gershman. Two facts that limit his ceiling significantly: he’ll be 22 next week and is listed at just 5’11″.
Mincone, a refugee from the Cubs organization, who played indy ball last year, turned 23 in July. In 22.2 innings, he’s fanned 23 and walked three working with a fastball at 87 mph and a curveball at 78. That stuff will play in the New York Penn League and the SAL, but he’ll run into trouble at the higher levels.
Sunday, the Mets optioned OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis to AAA Buffalo to replace him with Mike Baxter. This is a mistake. The team is keeping no fewer than four players inferior to Nieuwenhuis on the active big leaguer roster.
The Mets will have the following outfielders on the roster: righthanded-hitting Jason Bay and Scott Hairston, switch-hitter Andres Torres and lefties Jordany Valdespin, and Mike Baxter.
First, examine the overall shape of the Mets’ outfield production this year.
Since April 27, in his last 73 games, including 54 starts, Nieuwenhuis has struggled in a big way. He’s hit .230/.291/.338 with 79 (!) strikeouts in 247 plate appearances for a 32% strikeout rate. He has not hit lefthanders at all, going .180/.286/.230 in 73 PA against southpaws. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he’s still 24 years old – he won’t turn 25 until August – and he’s played solid if unspectacular defense.
Nieuwenhuis’ immediate replacement is Whitestone’s own, 27-year old Mike Baxter, who made the no-hitter saving catch for Johan Santana. Examine Baxter’s production above carefully. He owns a wildly unsustainable .447 batting average on balls in play. Subtract 100 points off that to a reasonable, but still high level, and his overall line would crater. In 123 career Major League plate appearances, Baxter has hit .280/.358/.467 with a .372 BABIP. Baxter has exactly ZERO major league hits off a left-hander in 13 plate appearances, but has drawn two walks. On the plus side, he’s hit .313/.382/.521 in his other 110 PA versus righties. He is not as good a defensive outfielder Nieuwenhuis.
You know what else is unsustainable on that chart above? All of Jordany Valdespin’s big league production. The 24-year old has a K/BB rate of 10 (20 strikeouts/2 BB) in 111 PA. And that’s the bigger problem, he’s drawn TWO walks for a 1.8% walk rate. Valdespin has certainly done damage against right-handed pitching with 11 extra-base hits in 89 PA against them, he has a .581 slugging percentage. He has just two extra-base hits, both doubles against lefties in 21 PA for a .350 slugging percentage.
Scott Hairston has the reverse problem. He list lefties (.315/.346/.621 in 130 PA), but not righties (.196/.248/.382 in 109 PA) in 2012.
Lucas Duda is already back in the minors.
Jason Bay has been one of the worst position players in baseball. By weighted runs created plus (wRC+), where 100 is league average, among all outfielders with more than 100 plate appearances, Bay is the seventh-worst. He’s 0-for his last 22. He has no defensive value. Bay is owed $16 in 2013, the pro-rated portion of $16 million this year with a $3 million buyout due to avoid his $17 million team option in 2014. Bay’s contract, and the fact that he was a valuable big league player from 2005-2009, is keeping him on the roster at least for another week or so.
Adres Torres is hitting .235 and slugging .310. In his favor, he has a .341 on-base percentage, and plays the best centerfield of the group. He’s making $2.7 million and is arbitration eligible for the third time after this season. Torres’ ability to play centerfield is keeping on the roster.
Nieuwenhuis, strikeouts and woes against lefties and all, is a better option in the big leagues in 2012 than Baxter or Valdespin. The only viable explanation for sending him to AAA now is developmental. Expecting production on both sides of the ball, from Valdespin and Baxter, that exceeds what Nieuwenhuis can provide is simply not reasonable. Moreover, if this is about building past 2012, Nieuwenhuis has a far better chance to contribute to the next Mets playoff team than Baxter, Torres and Bay. The last two months obscure this fact, but Nieuwenhuis has a chance to be part of the future.
Nieuwenhuis simply needs the exposure to big league pitching. In his last tour of duty in Buffalo, he beat up International League pitching at a .298/.403/.505 rate in 2011.
While the bullpen draws much of fan ire around the 2012 Mets, the outfield’s woes are nearly as severe. As a unit, the team’s outfield is 22nd overall in wRC+ and 29th in UZR. Put simply, it’s a bad offensive unit, and one of the worst defensive groupings. Removing Duda will improve the outfield defense moving forward. Removing Nieuwenhuis will not solve any problems and does not move the Mets appreciably forward to their next playoff team.