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.

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