Entering the 2011 season one of the biggest question marks was how the Mets’ SP were going to do with Johan Santana on the shelf. Would the team be able to handle not having an ace? There were other concerns about the starters, too. Could Chris Capuano and Chris Young stay healthy and regain their earlier form? Could Jonathon Niese take a step forward? And finally, could Mike Pelfrey repeat his 15-win season from 2010?
The answers to these have been mixed. Niese has been a solid pitcher, Capuano has stayed healthy and Dillon Gee has stepped forward to stabilize the rotation. On the negative side, Young fell apart physically, Pelfrey has taken a step backwards and Santana just recently had a setback in his rehab. The Santana news is the worst of all, meaning we could be in a similar position again in 2012.
Can the Mets handle not having an ace?
Everyone throws around the term “ace” but there’s no clear cut definition of what makes a pitcher into one. You’re just supposed to know when you have one. Roy Halladay is an ace, but is Jaime Garcia? It all depends on how you define the term.
Instead of worrying about semantics, let’s instead look at pitchers and break them down into percentiles. Let’s start with doing this by ERA. If we take all starters who have thrown at least 80 IP, we see the 30th-best ERA is 3.19 so far this year. If pitchers were distributed equally among team, each squad would have one pitcher with a 3.21 ERA or better. This would be your #1 SP
The 60th pitcher has an ERA of 3.69 so each team, assuming the same equal distribution, would have a pitcher with an ERA between 3.20 and 3.69. This would be your #2 SP. The #3 SP would have an ERA between 3.70 and 4.23 and your #4 SP would have between 4.24 and 4.92 ERA. Your #5 SP would have an ERA 4.93 and above.
By ERA, the Mets best pitcher is Gee and he rates as a bottom-tier #2 SP. Dickey rates as a strong #3 and Niese is a solid #3. Capuano and Pelfrey are solid #4 SP.
The problem is not just that the Mets do not have a #1 SP, it’s that they barely have a #2 SP. On the flip side, they do not have a #5 SP, either, which certainly helps things out. After inserting Gee into the lineup the Mets have been healthy and reasonably productive with their starters.
But we know that xFIP is a better indication of a pitcher’s quality than his ERA is. So, how do SP break down via this metric? Here are the bottom numbers for each group:
#1 SP – 3.44
#2 SP – 3.80
#3 SP – 4.05
#4 SP – 4.42
By xFIP, the Mets do have a #1 SP with Niese (3.22). They have two strong #3 pitchers in Capuano (3.86) and Dickey (3.88). Gee is a bottom tier #4 SP (4.39) and Pelfrey is one of the better #5 SP (4.46).
Either way, the Mets are missing an elite pitcher. If you go by ERA, the Mets need to add a #1-type pitcher but if you go by xFIP, they may really only lack a #2-type guy.
We hope the Mets will not be as financially handcuffed after this year as they were last offseason. However, with the Madoff clawback lawsuits yet to be finalized, no one really has any firm idea what to expect. Will the Mets go after someone like C.J. Wilson (3.38 ERA/3.47 xFIP) to fit in as a #2-type SP, if the budget allows?
Do you think the Mets should go to the free agent market do sign a #1 or #2 SP? And if so, do you think they should non-tender Pelfrey? These are some of the decisions awaiting Sandy Alderson in the offseason.