Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and SP#5 performance

In 1986, the Mets had three of the top 10 pitchers in the National League. Their fourth starter was Sid Fernandez. However, just because he was the Mets’ fourth starter does not mean in any way, shape or form was Fernandez an SP#4. When looking to rate starters, you cannot look at team context, you have to do it in league context.

This may seem like semantics or splitting hairs but it becomes important to note when looking at trade possibilities down the road. If the Mets had decided to trade Fernandez at the conclusion of the 1986 season, they would not have called up teams and said, “Hey, want to acquire a fourth starter?” No, they would have marketed him as an SP#2, the level of performance he delivered

Gee NielseIt’s a similar situation with what the Mets face in 2014 and beyond with Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and others. If all goes according to plan, one of those will likely be the fourth-best starter for the Mets. But it’s a mistake to consider either of these pitchers as merely back of the rotation guys.

The combination of their youth and their established level of performance makes them desirable pitchers. Now you can quote various metrics to buttress your point of view as to where they should rate. However, hopefully when you look at a variety of numbers – including IP, ERA, FIP, xFIP, WAR – you should walk away with the opinion that they would be an asset to most teams in the majors.

The injury to Matt Harvey delays the inevitable. At some point the Mets are going to trade one or more of their starting pitchers for a big bat. The injury may be a blessing in disguise. Last year Niese did not pitch a full season and it took half a year for Gee to straighten himself out as he rebounded from 2012’s season-ending injury. If both pitchers are healthy and pitch a full season – never, ever a given – odds are they will improve on their numbers from 2013 and make them more desirable trade targets.

Look at how Gee and Niese finished last year. After the All-Star break last year, Gee posted a 2.74 ERA and Niese recorded a 2.82 ERA in his final 16 starts of the year – marks significantly better than their full season as a whole. Now we cannot pretend that April and May do not count because, of course, they do. But there are reasons to believe that their 2013 seasons are not indicative of their true-talent level. Ideally they both pitch a full season in 2014 and we can judge accordingly.

How much would a team be willing to give up to get a 28-year-old starting pitcher coming off a season where he threw 200 innings and put up a 3.20 ERA? Gee has seen his ERA go from 4.43 to 4.10 to 3.62 and last year he threw 199 IP. Niese is one year removed from a 3.40 ERA/190.1 IP season, so it’s not completely far fetched to think that a 3.20 ERA/200 IP season is attainable for both.

That’s essentially the season that Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann put up last year.

Both Gonzalez and Zimmermann have multiple years at this level and even if Gee and Niese both hit the 3.20/200 marks speculated above, it would not mean they were in the same class as the Nationals’ duo. However, when thinking about Gee and Niese, they are closer to that level than they are #5 starting pitchers.

An SP#5 would pitch around 95 innings and have an ERA in the 4.75 range. Last year Jake Westbrook threw 116.2 IP and had a 4.63 ERA – that’s what an SP#5 looks like. Here’s hoping that the Mets can avoid SP#5-type performances from their pitchers in 2014 and beyond, even if they trade some of their depth for a big bat.

15 comments for “Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and SP#5 performance

  1. DD
    January 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Excellent point about the prospective trade values of these two.

    I would mention one thing: that games started by the numbers four and five starters count just as much as the games started by the staff ace, when it comes to winning enough to get into the postseason. Having two pitchers like Niese and Gee at the back end of the rotation is as much of an edge for a team as having a true ace would be over having a merely good number one — at least until postseason time.

    Meaning, I want a big bat too, but I hope the Mets are pretty certain that they have TWO strong contingency plans in place before trading either of these guys. If they end up settling for two Jake Westbrook types they won’t have improved the team, even if the new bat hits.

    Still, I can’t wait to see Thor, Montero and company in Flushing.

  2. Sean Flattery
    January 28, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Excellent points. Gee and Niese are valuable assets any way you look at it. If both could improve this season and Montero, Thor, and Mejia show they are for real, the Mets will have a pleasant “problem” on their hands.

  3. Eraff
    January 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Respectfully— teams do not trade 200ip/3.20 ERA’s… most especially:

    1. They’re Cheap— Niese has a 5 million /year contract
    2. “Theoretically”, they’re on the cusp of Winning as a team—that points to trading high

    • January 28, 2014 at 7:29 pm

      Respectfully, this is so not true. Teams trade young pitchers all of the time.

      27 year old Dan Haren, coming off a season where he had a 3.07 ERA in 222 IP was traded
      29 year old Cliff Lee, was dealt coming off a season where he had a better ERA was dealt
      27 year old Zack Greinke, coming off a three-year stretch where he averaged 217 IP and a 3.25 ERA was traded
      26 year old Gio Gonzalez, coming off 3.12 and 202 IP, was dealt
      24 year old Mat Latos, coming off a 3.47 and 194.1 was dealt

      These teams dealt them to sell high on young pitching, which is exactly what the Mets would be doing. The Mets just want to get a big bat rather than a prospect haul.

  4. Les Gomez
    January 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I would trade the two of them in a heartbeat. They are both at max value right now.

    • January 28, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      But then who will pitch in Queens for the first half of 2014? I wouldn’t be shocked if they even kept Thor back for most/all of the season. Montero is pretty much what he is at this point.

  5. AJ
    January 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

    When thinking about Mets pitching, a nagging thought keeps intruding on my mind – what if Matt Harvey doesn’t pan out? What if he doesn’t come back from TJ surgery “as good as new”? What if he recovers fully but fails to ever again measure up to the high level of expectation generated by a very small sample size at the big league level? I don’t think this is pessimism, but only keeping a realistic frame of mind. There are no certainties, as the adage has it, but death and taxes. It might end up that the Mets hold on to both Gee and Niece out of necessity.

    • January 29, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Let’s hope that never happens.

      But if it does — let’s hope the Mets give a chance to a guy from their system. Guys who don’t figure to be in the 2014 Opening Day rotation include: Montero, Syndergaard, Hefner, deGrom and Gorski. And there are plenty of names besides those who should be pushing at the door for time in 2015.

    • Patrick Albanesius
      January 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      I agree that you are taking the realistic approach to Harvey’s injury. I hear though that guys come back healthy at a very good rate, and sometimes even stronger and more durable because of the tendon replacement, or so I understand. I worry a little about hearing Harvey pitch in 2014, even if the Mets are in a playoff race and could use him. The likelihood is remote, and I think SA is too worried about pushing the recovery process.

  6. Patrick Albanesius
    January 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Also, great points BJ. Just because a guy pitches 4th, doesn’t mean he’s necessarily the fourth best pitcher. That’s precisely why we hear, “1, and 1A” tossed around certain rotations, like Detroit for instance.

  7. Chris F
    January 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I guess I only really see a real distinction between “ace” (clear #1) and rotation filler (clear #5). Gee and Niese represent neither. If the Mets were broadcasting trades, they would pump up the story higher than what they are. Its a gray line with no real edges. But I simply cannot understand what a “league context” means. Players dont get traded to the league, they get traded to a team, with team context. Gee and Niese would command solid return for trades or get excellent contracts were they available right now. I think a Gio/Zimmermann comparison fails however. You cant dismiss that Zimmermann is way better than Niese or Gee. Gio was in running for CY. In any one snapshot there is a similarity, but that fails to see what each has done (as you rightly point out).

    On some teams, Niese could be a “2″ while on others he would be a 4 or even 5. The team context exactly matters. No team would ever shop a product for less than what they are worth. Look at Ike for example. Sandy has held out in trade like he is an actual every day MLB 1B, but he is not.

    • January 29, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      I simply cannot believe you have trouble distinguishing between anything besides clear ace and clear rotation filler.

      Pitcher A – 195.2 IP, 3.36 ERA
      Pitcher B – 128.0 IP, 3.87 ERA

      Pitcher A ranked 19th in the NL last year in fWAR, making him a high-end #2 SP, while Pitcher B ranked 45th, making him a low-end #3 SP. I just have a hard time believing that if you had the option of Gio Gonzalez or Marco Estrada that you wouldn’t pick Gonzalez 100 times out of 100.

      And as clear as day I said the following:

      “Both Gonzalez and Zimmermann have multiple years at this level and even if Gee and Niese both hit the 3.20/200 marks speculated above, it would not mean they were in the same class as the Nationals’ duo.”

      Finally, it makes not a hill of beans’ worth of difference how good a pitcher’s teammates are in evaluating his performance. Anyone who claims that Roger Craig was a #1 pitcher because he started Opening Day for the 1962 Mets is a fool. It’s a dumb way to evaluate pitchers and the sooner we eliminate that thinking from our mind – the better off we’ll be.

  8. Metsense
    January 29, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    In 2013 there were 152 pitchers that started at least one game. That averages out to 10 starting pitchers per team. Only 76 of these pitchers pitched more than 70 innings. These 76 average out to 5 pitchers per team or a teams starting rotation. The top 15 of these 76 are the #1, 16-30 are the #2, etc for which ever pitching category you choose but the rankings are always using these 76 starting pitchers for that year. It is a simple way to designate a #3 starter from a #2 or a #5. It is a “league context” ranking.
    A National League pitcher averages 6 innings per start and a rotation slot gets 32-33 starts per year or 192 – 198 innings. The fact that only 76 pitched 70 innings or more indicates that the bottom spots of many teams rotations are revolving doors. There aren’t many quality pitchers in the league and pitchers that can put up average numbers with innings over 70 innings have great value.
    2013 NL Avg for starting pitchers was 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. The fact that the Mets have many pitchers that will be capable of pitching at or above the league average indicates that their pitching will be consistently better than most teams, especially in the 4th and 5th pitching slots. It is this pitching that could add to the record improving in 2014 and for years to come.

    • Name
      January 30, 2014 at 1:27 am

      I believe you were heading on the right track with your analysis but you misinterpreted some results. If 76 pitched 70 innings, that’s an average of 5 per team, which means that almost all 15 teams had 5 guys go 70+, which is nothing special.

      However, if we increase that to 150, which is what our top 4 are all expected to top, only 46 cleared that hurdle in 2013, 49 in 2012, 57 in 2011, 48 in 2010 which averages to around 3 starters per team making that mark, which means we are expected to do much better in the 4th spot than the average team.

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