Whatever happened to Hisanori Takahashi?

This time last year one of the big player personnel moves facing the Mets was what to do with Hisanori Takahashi. It was complicated due to Rule 8(i)(2), which made it necessary for the Mets to sign him by Halloween. And if you recall, the Mets had just fired their general manager and had yet to bring Sandy Alderson aboard.

When the Mets did hire Alderson, he negotiated with Takahashi’s agent to extend the deadline a couple of days. But even with the extra time, the Mets could not come to an agreement with the lefty swingman. Takahashi went out on the open market and signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Angels.

In 2010, Takahashi was very good when used out of the bullpen, as he had a 2.04 ERA in 57.1 IP as a reliever. He even ended the year as a closer, as he took over for the suspended Francisco Rodriguez. Earlier in the season, Takahashi bounced back and forth between starting and relieving. His posted a 5.01 ERA in 67.1 IP as a starter, which made everyone think he was overmatched in the role.

But Takahashi had two really bad outings that helped skew his numbers, starts that were not indicative of his actual ability. The first was in the bandbox known as Hiram Bithorn Stadium and the other was when he went 13 days between starts. Take those two outings away and Takahashi had a 3.83 ERA as a starting pitcher.

The Angels signed Takahashi to be a reliever and he did not make a single start in 2011. After a dreadful start, Takahashi pitched well over the final four months of the season. Here are his numbers the first two months of the year versus the final four:

Apr-May: 22.1 IP, 4.84 ERA, 11 BB, 16 Ks, 4 HR
June-on: 45.2 IP, 2.76 ERA, 14 BB, 36 Ks, 3 HR

In 2010, Takahashi posted a fWAR of 1.6 which they pegged as being worth $6.4 million on the open market. In 2011, his fWAR was just 0.4, which they calculated as being worth $1.8 million . Since Takahashi signed for $8 million over two years, it looks like the Angels did not get their money’s worth in the first year of this deal.

Meanwhile, the Mets signed Chris Capuano for $1.5 million and he produced a fWAR of 1.6, which is worth $7 million. The Mets made off better with Capuano than the Angels did with Takahashi. Of course, Capuano performing as a starting pitcher for most of the season and having a 186.0 to 68.0 edge in innings pitched had a lot to do with the fWAR difference.

We’ll never know how Takahashi would have fared if he was allowed to make the 31 starts for the Mets that Capuano did in 2011. My guess is he would have performed a bit better than Capuano. But since the Mets were pinching pennies, the difference in salary would not have been worth whatever increase in production Takahashi might have given.

It appears that Alderson made the right call on Takahashi and his fifth starter for 2011. Still, I enjoyed Takahashi’s tenure with the Mets and I hope he pitches as well for the Angels in 2012 as he did the final four months of 2011.

Takahashi's value as a starter

David Waldstein of the New York Times recently reminded everyone that the Mets essentially have until the end of October to sign Hisanori Takahashi. While Takahashi is a free agent following the 2010 season, if the Mets do not sign him by Halloween they are ineligible to ink him to a major league deal before May 15th, as laid out by Rule 8(i)(2).

Takahashi wants to be a starter. Last year he was much more effective as a reliever (2.04 ERA in 57.1 IP) than he was as a starter (5.01 ERA in 67.2 IP). Still, given the lack of starting pitching options for the Mets, should they consider re-signing Takahashi as a starter, and if so, how much money should they be willing to give him?

The biggest factors against re-signing Takahashi are his age and his ERA as a starter. But what if we throw some other numbers into the equation? Takahashi also had an 8.41 K/9 and a K/BB of 2.65 in 2010 as a 35-year old, and as a starter he posted a 7.52 K/9 and a 2.57 K/BB,

Since 1990, only four lefties in the majors age 34 and up pitched 100 innings, had an ERA over 4.75 while posting a K/9 over 6.00 and a K/BB of 2.00 or greater. They are:

Chuck Finley in 2001 as a 38-year old
Jamie Moyer in 2007 as a 44-year old
Randy Johnson in 2006 as a 42-year old
David Wells in 1999 as a 36-year old

Overall, there are only 33 seasons by a lefty that match our criteria above (ignoring ERA), 10 of them by Johnson, four by Finley, and three by Wells, Al Leiter and Andy Pettitte. Basically, you have to be a pretty good pitcher to put up the numbers that Takahashi did in 2010, even if we just looked at what he did as a starter. Others on the list include Jimmy Key, Mark Langston, and Ted Lilly.

Putting up the numbers is one thing, but what did our group do the following season?

Finley won 11 games and had a 4.15 ERA (down from 5.54) and threw 190.2 IP
Moyer won 16 games and had a 3.71 ERA (down from 5.01) in 196.1 IP
Johnson won 4 games and had a 3.81 ERA (down from 5.00) in 56.2 IP
Wells won 20 games and had a 4.11 ERA (down from 4.82) in 229.2 IP

All of those pitchers were older than Takahashi. And while all of them had a more established major league pedigree, we should remember that Takahashi pitched 10 years in Japan, with his final season having a line of 10-6 with a 2.94 ERA and a 7.88 K/9.

Takahashi had a 5.01 ERA as a starter but he had a 4.72 FIP in that span. He averaged 5.1 IP in his 12 starts. Let’s say he made no improvements, made 32 starts and had average luck next year. What would a starting pitcher with a 4.72 ERA in 170 IP be worth?

Last year Joe Blanton had 175.2 IP and a 4.82 ERA and FanGraphs showed him being worth $7.5 million. But they use FIP for their calculations instead of ERA. Jeff Niemann had 174.2 IP and a 4.61 FIP and FanGraphs pegged that as being worth $4.9 million

So, if the Mets put Takahashi into the rotation and he makes no improvements over what he did as a starter in 2010, he’s likely to be worth north of $4 million next season.

So, is there any chance for improvement?

Objectively, we’ve already seen his FIP as a starter was lower than his ERA. Takahashi had a 2.57 K/BB as a starter last year. Of the 20 players last year that hurled at least 150 IP and had a K/BB between 2.37 and 2.77 – no one had an ERA over 4.20. In 2009, there were eight pitchers between 2.37 and 2.77 K/BB and the highest ERA was 4.12.

Subjectively, one would think that if he stayed in the rotation for the entire year he would pitch better. Last year after making 15 relief appearances, Takahashi moved into the rotation and made nine starts. Then he moved back to the bullpen, then back to the rotation, back to the bullpen, back to the rotation and then back to the bullpen for good beginning in August.

Takahashi was either very good or very bad last year. He had six Quality Starts, five games where he gave up 5 ER or more and only one where he fell in the middle (5 IP, 3 ER). One of the blowouts came in the bandbox of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico and another one came when he went 13 games between starts. Neither of those things should happen to 2011 Takahashi if the Mets commit to him as a starter.

While you cannot realistically throw out starts of which you do not like the results, it is interesting to see that minus those two appearances, Takahashi has a 3.83 ERA as a starter.

Takahashi’s ability to avoid walks and strike out batters at a good clip makes him a decent bet to be a productive starting pitcher. The main issue is his propensity to give up fly balls and home runs. Takahashi had an 11.3 HR/FB ratio last year as a starter, perhaps just a tad higher than what we would expect given his home park.

He had 73 GB and 97 FB last year as a starting pitcher. Ted Lilly had the highest FB% (52.6) of any pitcher to throw at least 150 IP last year. Takahashi’s rate as a starter was 57.1 percent. Lilly gives the blueprint in how to survive as a FB pitcher – Have a high K/BB, high IFFB% and a low BABIP.

With solid K/BB and IFFB% (8.3), Takahashi could be a Lilly-lite. It would help if he could improve on last year’s .330 BABIP as a starter. Lilly had a .259 BABIP last year and has a career .283 mark. Altogether, Lilly had a 3.62 ERA last year and has a lifetime 4.18 mark.

Can Takahashi post a year like Lilly’s 2010? That’s unlikely. But it’s unlikely even Lilly can post another season like that, as he had a 77.4 LOB% to go with the low BABIP. But Lilly’s lifetime ERA of 4.18 certainly seems within reach for Takahashi.

But the Mets (or any other team) would be happy if Takahashi would provide a 4.50 ERA as their fourth or fifth starter. Hopefully the new general manager will be signed in time to move forward with the Takahashi negotiations. I would be comfortable with a two-year, $8 million contract for Takahashi, although I would certainly prefer a single year with an option.

End of season report card for the Mets

For a season that opened up with hope, and which was carried to the All-Star break, the Mets once again flamed out and disappointed their fans and had their second consecutive losing season (79-83).

Change is now on the horizon as GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel were given their pink slips on Monday.

While this may be an exercise in futility, let’s look at the 2010 New York Mets and grade their performances on the field.

Catcher:
Josh Thole: B
With Rod Barajas breaking camp as the starting catcher, not much was expected of Thole this year. But when Thole was called up on June 24, he impressed the franchise with his ability to hit in the clutch and get on base. With the team fading from the playoff picture, Barajas was squeezed out and eventually traded to the Dodgers. Thole was given the starting job all to himself. He hit a few bumps down the stretch but hit .277/.356/.366.

Henry Blanco C+
As a backup catcher, you know what you are going to get from Blanco: good game-calling and sound defense. For the most part, Blanco did his job.

First Base:
Ike Davis: B
Davis arrived in late April and provided a spark with his pop and defense. He struggled in the middle months, before hitting well down the stretch. Davis needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but is a player Met faithful could rally around.

Mike Hessman D-
The power-hitting minor league journeyman was only good for one home run this year. He was lost at the plate en route to a .127 average.

Second Base:
Ruben Tejada: C
If Tejada wasn’t so impressive with his glove, his grade would have been much worse. Tejada, who had a fine September, will have to hit for a higher average if he wants to be the everyday second baseman for the Mets next year.

Luis Castillo: F
Castillo has officially worn out his welcome in New York. His numbers were atrocious (.234/.336/.267), and he has a history of injuries. Don’t expect Castillo back next year.

Shortstop:
Jose Reyes: B
Reyes had an up and down season while battling an oblique injury for most of the summer. In stretches, Reyes was unstoppable, but his inconsistency was maddening. It was refreshing to see him finish out the season. Hopefully a new coach can propel his game to new heights.

Third Base:
David Wright: A-
Wright had a renaissance season by rediscovering his power stroke (29 HR’s this year as compared to the 10 he had on 2009 while knocking in more than 100 runs). However, Wright’s propensity for striking out and falling into prolonged cold streaks, put a damper on an otherwise resurgent season.

Outfield:
Angel Pagan: A
Not much was expected of Pagan going into the year, but he far exceeded expectations by hitting .290 with11 HR’s and 69 RBI’s. Pagan was a terror on the base paths, stealing a team-high 37 bases. Pagan was also dynamite in the field and displayed his versatility by playing all outfield positions.

Carlos Beltran: C
Beltran had a rocky beginning coming back from the disabled list in July. He was worthless as the Mets made their second-half swoon, but did show promise that he still does have some life left in his bat as he surged towards the finish. Beltran, who missed the last six days of the season with a minor knee injury, hit .321 in September to go along with five home runs and 13 RBI’s. He’ll likely be back with the Mets next year, but could become trade bait if the team falls out of contention.

Jason Bay: D
Bay was a bust from the word go. You don’t like to see his year end the way it did with a season-ending concussion, but he was not what the Mets paid for. He ended his season with .263 average to go with a pathetic six home runs and 47 RBI’s in 348 AB’s. Hopefully he can recapture his power next year, much the same way Wright did.

Chris Carter: C-
You gotta love Carter’s will and determination, but he is nothing more than a bench player with a limited ceiling.

Lucas Duda: C-
Duda is a prospect who does possess some pop. He struggled mightily once he was called up going 1-33, but did finish strong with four home runs in his last 15 games. His role for next season is not known.

Nick Evans: B-
Evans is another role player who did well for the Mets in the final month, and was the only Met hitter to hit above .300 (albeit in 36 AB’s). Evans will challenge for a roster spot next year.

Jesus Feliciano: C-
Feliciano was yet another Met who was good in stretches, but not one for consistency.

Starting Pitchers:
Johan Santana: B
Prior to Santana’s shoulder problems, he was once again a bright spot in the rotation with 11 wins to go with a 2.98 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Santana will battle for you every time he starts. Hopefully, he battles back from rehab and gets back to the Mets ASAP.

Mike Pelfrey: B+
Despite hitting a rough spot in the middle of the season in which Pelfrey had a 7.35 ERA in ten starts, which not so accidentally coincided with the Mets summer swoon, he rebounded to have a career year. Pelfrey had 15 wins to go with a respectable 3.66 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. The question going into next year is which Mike Pelfrey will show up?

R.A. Dickey: A+
What superlatives are left to describe Dickey’s phenomenal season? This was a pitcher who was left for dead and all he did was win 11 games to go with a sparkling 2.84 ERA. His knuckleball kept hitters off-balance all season. Can he carry it over to next season?

Jon Niese: B-
Niese had a fine rookie season, but hit a wall going down the stretch. Niese won nine games and had decent peripheral stats (4.20 ERA, 148 strikeouts). Niese will be counted on to step up next season.

Dillon Gee and Pat Misch: INC.
Gee was fantastic down the stretch, going 2-2 in his five starts and throwing a quality start in each game. Gee will battle for a rotation spot next spring. With the way he pitched in September there is no reason he can’t at least contend for the fifth spot.
Misch was also an adequate addition to the staff. In his six starts, Misch got little run support and lost four games while picking up no wins. He’ll have a tough time cracking the rotation next year.

Oliver Perez: F
Is there a worse grade than F? If so, Perez should have it. His ineffectiveness, wildness, and stubbornness to accept a minor league assignment destroyed club morale and spirit. There is no comprehensible way that Perez should be back in any capacity.

John Maine: D-
I don’t know what was worse, Maine’s troublesome injuries or his mis-communication with management about them. His future with the team is cloudy right now.

Bullpen:
Francisco Rodriguez: F
This grade is inherent solely on his off-the-field shenanigans. K-Rod embarrassed the club when he assaulted his girlfriend’s father after a game at Citi Field. K-Rod would injure his hand in the fracas and be out for the season

Hisanori Takahashi: B+
Takahashi was a jack of all trades pitching for the Mets. He was admirable as a starter, but was at his best when he pitched out of the pen. Takahashi even closed games, nailing down eight of eight save opportunities.

Bobby Parnell: B-
Prior to being shut down with inflammation in his elbow, Parnell was starting to capitalize on his potential. Parnell used his live jumping fastball to intimidate hitters. As with any young pitcher, he needs to get more consistent.

Pedro Feliciano: B
For the most part, Feliciano did his job. Feliciano is a workhorse that feasts on opposing lefties.

Elmer Dessens: B
Dessens was another pitcher to seemingly come out of nowhere and impress the club with his ability to eat innings and keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. While appearing in 53 games, Dessens had an impressive 2.29 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.

Ryota Igarashi: D-
Igarashi was pitching well in April prior to a groin injury, but once he came back he was never the same. Igarashi finished the season with an unhealthy 7.12 ERA

Manny Acosta: B-
Acosta was solid in his middle-relief role, but was used in a lot of mop-up duty.

Fernando Nieve: C-
Nieve got off to a good start, but was overused and got designated for assignment in late July.

Raul Valdes: C
Valdes was good in stretches as well, but he was another guy who did not pitch much in pressure situations.

Jenrry Mejia: C+
Mejia should have never started in the bullpen this year. He should have been sent down to the minors to fine tune his career as a starter. Mejia was not awful in the pen, and the hope is he can contend for a rotation spot next year.

Mets' September screw-up

Dillon Gee certainly turned heads with his outing Tuesday and hopefully the Mets will give him regular starts in September. With the playoffs out of reach, the club needs to use the final month of the season to give players a chance to show what they can do. Which is why Bobby Parnell should be the closer and Hisanori Takahashi should be in the rotation.

Instead, Parnell is being used as a righty setup guy who manager Jerry Manuel tries to limit his exposure to LHB and Takahashi is employed as the closer. This alignment may ensure an additional victory or two this season, but the difference between 82 or 83 wins is negligible. It makes no sense because Parnell learns very little not facing lefties and there is virtually no chance that Takahashi closes for the Mets in 2011.

Takahashi is a free agent at the end of the season. Is it worthwhile to sign him for 2011? Is he just a bullpen guy in the majors or can he be a reliable starter? Conventional wisdom says that Takahashi is better suited to be a reliever because his numbers are so much worse the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. But the 35-year old also enjoyed some success as a starter. Was that success merely a fluke because teams did not have a good scouting report on him? A half dozen more September starts could have helped provide a better answer.

Here are Takahashi’s OPS by times through the order (numbers through Tuesday)

1st PA – .598
2nd PA – .919
3rd PA – .990

But can we take those numbers at face value? Are there any mitigating circumstances that we should factor in before using them to draw any conclusions? How do those numbers stack up to other starters on the staff? Let’s examine that last question first.

1st PA

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
Johan Santana 279 246 .252 .330 .402 .732
Jonathon Niese 248 223 .238 .300 .323 .623
R.A. Dickey 205 186 .237 .294 .312 .606
Mike Pelfrey 249 226 .305 .364 .428 .792
Hisanori Takahashi 108 95 .232 .288 .316 .604

2nd PA

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
Johan Santana 261 236 .242 .289 .314 .603
Jonathon Niese 221 200 .265 .324 .460 .784
R.A. Dickey 188 173 .289 .326 .393 .719
Mike Pelfrey 241 210 .319 .385 .481 .866
Hisanori Takahashi 106 94 .293 .353 .565 .918

3rd PA

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
Johan Santana 217 207 .217 .247 .329 .576
Jonathon Niese 186 162 .333 .405 .549 .954
R.A. Dickey 148 140 .200 .243 .271 .514
Mike Pelfrey 189 174 .276 .328 .391 .719
Hisanori Takahashi 66 61 .371 .409 .581 .990

We see immediately that Takahashi has the worst numbers the second and third time through the order but we also see that Pelfrey struggles in the second PA and Niese in the third PA. The fascinating thing to me about these numbers are how Santana’s OPS declines the second and third time through the order and how Dickey is nearly unhittable if hitters face him a third time.

So, since Takahashi’s numbers are so much worse than the other Mets’ starters, doesn’t this justify thinking he’s best suited for relieving? In a word, no.

First, Takahashi has between one half to one third of the PA that the other pitchers have. This means his numbers are much more susceptible to a small sample size fluke. Second, Takahashi did not get to pitch on a regular five-day rotation. Twice he was moved to the bullpen and once he went 13 days between starts.

Finally, Takahashi pitched a game in Puerto Rico in a stadium that is really not up to Major League standards. The Mets and Marlins combined for 37 runs in the three-game series. The three games before that, the Mets and Twins combined for 19 runs and the three games after Puerto Rico the Mets and Nationals combined for 22 runs.

If we remove the start in Puerto Rico, Takahashi’s numbers the second time through the order become:

.256/.305/.465 for a .770 OPS

This would be the third-best mark on the staff, behind Santana and Dickey but ahead of Niese and Pelfrey. Just that one start is really skewing the numbers. How about if we also remove the game when he went 13 days between starts? Then his numbers the second time through the order look like this:

.235/.253/.370 for a .623 OPS

Of course, anyone’s numbers would look better if you removed the two worst starts from their overall record. But Takahashi is suffering from a double whammy here. First, he does not have enough starts to compensate for these bad outings and second, both of his bad outings have a logical explanation (Hiram Bithorn, 13 days between starts).

I don’t think a .623 OPS the second time through the order is indicative of Takahashi, just like I do not think a .918 OPS is what his true talent level is, either. The true number is most likely somewhere in between. But we have no idea where. And that’s why he should be starting right now – to give us more information about what kind of pitcher he really is.

The bottom line is that no one can say if Takahashi has the ability to be an effective Major League starter. He simply does not have enough innings for anyone to make an informed opinion. Those who cite the numbers for the second and third time through the order are making judgments on small samples that they would not do for other pitchers.

In 12 games as a starter, Takahashi is 4-4 with a 5.01 ERA. In his last 12 games, Pelfrey is 3-7 with a 5.63 ERA. There is just as much evidence that Pelfrey cannot succeed as a starter as there is for Takahashi, more if you count what Pelfrey did in 2009.

This is yet another indication of why I believe that Jerry Manuel is not a good manager. Instead of doing what is best for the players and the long-term health of the franchise, Manuel is trying to squeeze every last win out of a non-playoff club. Because of this, we have no idea if Takahashi can start and if Parnell can handle pitching the ninth inning.

Mets bite back

The New York Mets (53-51) rebounded from Friday’s loss with a 5-4 walk-off win in the ninth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jesus Feliciano led off the ninth with a long triple to right-center field. After Jose Reyes popped to right field, the Diamondbacks intentionally walked Angel Pagan and David Wright to load the bases. Carlos Beltran than delivered with a game-winning sacrifice fly to right.

The Mets finished July with a 9-17 record (4-6 before the All-Star Break and 5-11 from July 15-31). They are now 33-18 at Citi Field.

The Mets picked up a game on the NL East leading Atlanta Braves, who dropped a 5-2 decision Saturday afternoon to the Cincinnati Reds. The Philadelphia Phillies remain 3 1/2 back in second place, losing 7-5 to the Washington Nationals.

Arizona Diamondbacks @ New York Mets … recap and boxscore

The Mets and Diamondbacks play the final game of the series Sunday afternoon at 1:10pm. Jonathon Niese (7-4, 3.43) will take the mound for the Mets against Daniel Hudson (1-1, 6.32).

###

Post Game Notes:

Hisanori Takahashi started and pitched six innings, allowing one run and seven hits. He struck out 10 batters and walked two (112 pitches/70 strikes).

Bobby Parnell surrendered the lead in the seventh, allowing three hits, three walks and three runs. Pedro Feliciano, Manny Acosta and Francisco Rodriguez combined to pitch the final three innings, allowing no hits and striking out three.

Jose Reyes extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a fifth-inning RBI single to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.

Angel Pagan went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. 

David Wright was 2-for-4 with three RBI.

Carlos Beltran went hitless (0-for-4) but collected the game-winning sacrifice fly RBI. In 15 games since returning from the disabled list is now .200 (11-for-55).

Post Game Quotes:

Carlos Beltran (on helping the Mets win): “I haven’t been with the team the whole season, so the guy they’ll challenge is me because they feel I’m not ready. I don’t have a problem with that. I have to make the most of it.”

Jerry Manuel (on Carlos Beltran): “He’s not quite right, but you know he knows what to do in those situations.”

Carlos Beltran (on Mets): “We’re fighting. Even though nothing happened this deadline, we’re going to come here every single day with the mentality of winning ballgames.”

David Wright (on the trade deadline): “Obviously, there’s 30 teams out there trying to improve themselves. If we would have gotten somebody, great. But we can’t hang our heads. We’ve got to find a way with the guys we have in here.”

Carlos Beltran (on the trade deadline): “It would’ve been great to get help from a player, but the organization feels we have an opportunity to win.”

  //

The real Mike Pelfrey

At the break, Mike Pelfrey was 10-4 and many thought he got a raw deal by not making the All-Star team. But the truth is that after a great April, Pelfrey is the same underachieving guy he has always been. The story line was how the former first-round draft pick had added a new pitch and was now ready to take his place as one of the elite pitchers in the game. But if you look at him objectively, he is a back of the rotation pitcher whose stuff may still play best as a reliever.

Coming into this season, Pelfrey was 28-32 with a 4.58 ERA. He had 479 IP in the majors and recorded 275 Ks, for a 5.2 K/9 ratio. He did not have a pitch to put away batters when he got to two strikes and he had trouble versus LHB. Both of these were by-products of his pitching arsenal, where he threw two-seam fastballs the majority of the time.

Strikeout pitchers usually have a weapon that moves out of the strike zone that they get hitters to chase when they have two strikes. But Pelfrey did not have a big curve or sharp slider to expand the strike zone with when he got to two strikes against a hitter. Pelfrey did have a slider, but it was not a particularly good pitch and it is not one that traditionally fares well against LHB, as it breaks towards them instead of away from them.

This season, Pelfrey added a splitter to his repertoire. It seemed an odd choice, given that his two-seam fastball broke the same direction, but it was another pitch in his arsenal. And at first it was a great success. In April, he had a 6.6 K/9 and his splitter had a linear weights value of 3.13 runs above average per 100 pitches, the third-best mark in baseball.

In five games in April, Pelfrey was 4-0 (and a save!) with a 0.69 ERA.

But in 17 games since then, Pelfrey is 6-5 with a 5.00 ERA and a 5.2 K/9. Sure, he has been a bit unlucky, as batters have a .356 BABIP against him in that stretch. His FIP in that span is 4.03 but as Pelfrey allowed only 7 HR in those 99 IP, if xFIP was available it would show a mark right in line with his ERA.

So, coming into 2010, Pelfrey had a sub-.500 record and a 4.58 ERA
Last year he was 10-12 with a 5.03 ERA
In his last 17 games, Pelfrey is 6-5 with a 5.00 ERA

Which do you think is more indicative of Pelfrey as a pitcher, April when he had a 0.69 ERA or May-July when his ERA was 5.00?

Remember how his splitter was so effective in April? Now, linear weights show it as a below-average pitch, as it is -0.53 runs over 100 pitches. And LHB have a .291/.365/.447 line against him in 283 PA this season. That is an .811 OPS, which matches up perfectly with his .814 lifetime OPS against lefties. Despite the splitter, Pelfrey is the same pitcher he has always been.

NL pitchers have a 4.09 ERA. Starters in the NL have a 4.11 ERA. SP for the Mets have a 3.89 ERA, John Maine and Oliver Perez included. Since May 1st, Pelfrey’s ERA marks him as a #5 SP. He still has a gaudy W-L record of 10-5, which hides his true talent level to a lot of people.

Many have cried for the Mets to acquire a SP and move Hisanori Takahashi to the bullpen. Takahashi has been much more effective as a reliever than a starter, so it is understandable why. But in his last start, Takahashi went 7 IP, allowed 3 H and 2 ER. His reward? They skipped over his start and moved him to the bullpen. Takahashi was lit up in his prior start, but that was his first start in 13 days.

Ideally, both Pelfrey and Takahashi would be in the bullpen. But if the Mets do make a move to add one pitcher, it is far from a slam dunk that Takahashi is the pitcher to be moved. Yes, Takahashi was very effective as a RP. But he was also a quality starter for 10 years in his native country. Last year he was 10-6 with a 2.94 ERA in Japan. Takahashi has not been given enough of a chance to show what he can do as a SP in this country.

On the other hand, Pelfrey has been given a chance and the results have been far from dazzling. He outperformed his peripherals in 2008 and he had a great month of April in 2010. But the vast majority of his work shows a pitcher who is not very good. Pelfrey has 604 IP in the majors and a 4.49 ERA, which is in the middle of his FIP (4.22) and xFIP (4.60). For the past three months, he has been worse than that.

It is understandable why the Mets would prefer to keep Pelfrey in the rotation. As a former first-round pick, the club has a lot invested in him. Also, as the Mets already have two other LHP in the rotation, their preference for a righty also makes sense.

What confuses me is why the fan base shows such a strong bias towards Pelfrey over Takahashi. What should matter to us is simply results. Since May 1st, Pelfrey has a 5.00 ERA while Takahashi has a 4.60 ERA. Yes, some of Takahashi’s appearances in that time span came out of the bullpen. But he also had a start in Puerto Rico, had his turn skipped in the rotation and has yo-yoed back and forth between being a starter and a reliever. In other words, he is not pitching under the most ideal circumstances. And it is not like Pelfrey has a long history of success with the team.

It just makes me wonder if Takahashi would be embraced more if his name was Harry Smith.

Mets season hinges on deadline deals

While there is plenty of time left in the baseball season, the window for the Mets to contend with either the Atlanta Braves in the NL East or a wild-card spot may be defined in the next 11 days. In those 11 days, Mets General Manager Omar Minaya must decide if his team is as good as presently constituted or if they need help. The short answer is the Mets do need help.

They have to look to upgrade the starting rotation or risk losing out on making the playoffs.

It’s becoming more apparent by the day that the Mets need another pitcher. I want to be an eternal optimist, but Mike Pelfrey and Hisanori Takahashi are making it hard for me and other Met fans to be optimistic.

On Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks Pelfrey simply imploded. The most optimist of Met fans thought the break and the rest would do Pelfrey some good. So much for that theory. Pelfrey was shellacked, giving up six runs on seven hits and two walks in just 1 1/3 innings pitched. Pelfrey was laboring early and threw an unheard of 51 pitches in the first inning.

Pelfrey is simply losing the confidence he gained earlier in the year and has become a real drain on the staff lately. In his last six starts Pelfrey is 1-4 with an appropriate 9.11 ERA.

I still have faith in Pelfrey, but with the way he is pitching, the Mets must look elsewhere for some stability. Mets manager Jerry Manuel said Pelfrey must get back to trusting his fastball. The Mets have a lot invested in Pelfrey to give up on him, but he needs to get his act together.

Takahashi is another pitcher that is breaking down. On Saturday vs. the Giants, Takahashi was roughed up for six earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 2 2/3 innings pitched. The Mets seemed committed to Takahashi for at least another turn in the rotation as he is set to face off against the Dodgers on Thursday night.

Compounding matters is that the Mets are expected to bring Oliver Perez off the disabled list on Tuesday, which could set off another round of dominoes.

As with any other intelligent Met fan, I have grown tired of Perez’ game, or lack thereof. But perhaps Takahashi is better suited for the pen and thereby the Mets should give Perez one more shot at redemption. For now Perez will start off in the bullpen and Takahashi will remain the starter. Neither pitcher is getting it done, or anyone worthy of your trust, but at least Takahashi has value in the bullpen, unlike Perez.

However, let’s hope the Mets and Minaya make this point moot. Let’s hope the Mets go out and get an inning eater who can get you some quality starts and keep you in ball games.

Look, I would love to get the last remaining ace on the market in Roy Oswalt, but he may cost too much, literally and figuratively. I am cool with the likes of Ted Lilly, Fausto Carmona or Brett Myers. With the performances of Pelfrey and Takahashi lately, and with Jonathon Niese still wet behind the ears, the Mets would do themselves a lot of favors by getting that solid pitcher who you can consistently count on every fifth day.

The Mets have a daunting schedule ahead of them (with 19 of the next 24 games against teams they are fighting with for playoff contention), which only heightens the urgency level. Minaya has less than two weeks to decide if they can contend with the premier teams in the National League. With the offense the Mets have, conventional wisdom suggests they will break out of their offensive slump soon enough. With their full line up back in tact for the first time in 15 months it’s only a matter of time before that theory holds true.

To make a push for the playoffs, their pitching has to be as balanced as it’s hitting. As of now, that is not the case, but in the span of 11 days Minaya and the Mets can rectify that situation.

Mets Report Card

The All-Star break is upon us and it’s natural to look forward. The Mets at 48-40, four games back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL and one game behind in the wild card race.

Below is a list of Mets players with a grade given to each hitter and pitcher on how they have played so far in the 2010 season. Not a whole lot was expected from the Mets, but they have been relatively healthy this season and they are playing with more confidence and cohesiveness.

All grades are relative to their impact on the lineup and the expectations placed upon them. Hence, you will see a player who is obviously not as talented as some others, but get better grades.

Rod Barajas — Catcher: Grade B –
Barajas was one of the main reasons the Mets dug themselves out of a 4-8 hole and got hot toward the end of April and into early May, which turned their season around. Barajas, came up with clutch hit after clutch hit, even hitting a walk-off home run on May 7. Barajas surged out of the gate with 11 HR’s in the first 52 games. However, Barajas has struggled mightily in June and July, with his last home run being hit on May 31. He has been somewhat of a liability lately as Mets manger Jerry Manuel has been given a lot of time to prospect Josh Thole.

Henry Blanco — Catcher: Grade B+
You can’t get much more value for a backup catcher than what Blanco has provided. Pitchers are really comfortable with Blanco behind the plate and his defense is above average. He has thrown out 47 percent of base runners as well. He has even ht a walk-off home run.

Josh Thole — Catcher: Grade Incomplete
I would love to give Thole a high grade here because of his gaudy numbers (.529 AVG and five RBI’s in 20 games). However, Thole only has 17 AB’s and his role with the team has not been permanently defined. Thole still has a future with the Mets though.

Ike Davis — First Baseman: Grade B
Davis, who didn’t even make the club out of spring training, was brought up in late April and has re-energized the club with his pop and glove. He has been a mainstay at the position after Fernando Tatis and Mike Jacobs proved to be incapable of holding down the fort. Prior to going 2-3 on Sunday with his 11th home run, Davis had been struggling as his average has dropped to .258. There is no shame in that for the young rookie. His future seems bright with the Mets, considering the Mets never thought of trading him in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

Ruben Tejada — Second Baseman: Grade C+
This is a hard grade to give, but there are two sides to the grade. His defense would be an A while his offense would be a D. The rookie has looked overmatched at the plate, but on the field he has looked like a seasoned vet. There is a lot of learning for the 20-year-old to absorb, and there is no telling how much better he can get

Luis Castillo — Second Baseman: Grade D+
Castillo, who is always an injury risk, is someone the Mets simply cannot count on anymore. He does possess the ability to get on base, but he can’t stay healthy. At his age, Castillo’s lack of pop, declining speed and range at second are proving to be detrimental to the team. Management will have a tough time demoting Tejada when Castillo is ready to return.

Alex Cora — Second Basemen/Shortstop: Grade C
Cora is a great clubhouse leader with great baseball acumen. Cora is a fine role player but his numbers (.222 AVG, 0 HR’s, and 20 RBI’s) are not that great. It is his intangibles that even get him the C grade.

Jose Reyes — Shortstop: Grade B
Let’s hope the lingering oblique injury is something that can go away with the break because Reyes needs to heal up and get back to what he does best: get on base and wreck havoc. Reyes, who also missed the first week of the season, took a while to heat up but in June he was looking like the Reyes of old. It is only injuries that are holding Reyes back.

Fernando Tatis — First Baseman/Infield Reserve: Grade D
Tatis, who was recently put on the DL, has taken a step back from his last couple of years with the Mets. With Davis firmly entrenched at first base, Tatis’ only role is a righty off the bench with some pop and he has been a disappointment on that front (.185 AVG, 2 HR’s).

David Wright — Third Baseman: Grade A+
What more needs to be said? Wright is back after a dismal 2009 season and is in the discussion for the NL MVP with a .314 AVG, 14 HR’s and a NL leading 65 RBI’s. Wright is back to being an All-Star and one you can most definitely count on in the second half.

Jason Bay — Left Field: Grade C
Bay was supposed to be the answer to the Mets problems with the long balls after hitting 36 of them with the Red Sox last year, but he has a measly six thus far this season. Bay has had some trouble adjusting to the Mets lineup and has not come through in the clutch. His number are not terrible, but they are not on par with the elite in baseball and he was paid as if he was one of the elite outfielders in the game. Bay can still make amends and has been known to be a streaky hitter. Let’s hope that streak will pick up in the dog days of the summer.

Angel Pagan — Center Field: Grade A+
Pagan has not only met the meager expectations placed upon him in the pre-season, he has thoroughly exceeded them. When Carlos Beltran returns this week, it will not be Pagan who will do the sitting and that is the testament to the year he has had. Pagan, who is 5th in the national league in hitting at .315, has been the most consistent and clutch hitter on the team. He has been a gem on the base paths and his range in centerfield is second to none. It’s scary to think how the Mets would be if Pagan wasn’t so good in the first half.

Jeff Francoeur — Right Field: Grade C
Francoeur is another player whose grade is different based upon his offense and defense. At the plate, Francoeur has been mediocre (.253 AVG 8 HR’s, 42 RBI’s) and has gone into a funk as we hit the break. However, there is no denying how much his arm has meant to the team. No one runs on Francoeur and there is no telling how many runs he saves with his powerful arm. With the return of Beltran this week and the emergence of Pagan, it will be Francoeur who will sit the most in the outfield.

Chris Carter — Outfield: Grade C+
Carter, nicknamed “The Animal,” has given the team a spark on many occasions, even delivering a game winning hit in his first at bat with the team on May 11 vs. the Nationals. But Carter has his flaws and is just a reserve for a reason.

Johan Santana — Starting Pitcher: Grade B+
If it wasn’t for his recent hot streak, the Mets might be sinking into the abyss. The Mets won two games last week and both were Santana starts. That should indicate his value. Santana, coming off elbow surgery, took a while to get back into a groove. Santana is usually known for being a second half pitcher and the Mets hope that trend continues.

Mike Pelfrey — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Earlier in the season Pelfrey was pitching like an ace, a lock for the All-Star team, but in his last five starts or so, Pelfrey has been pitching with what has been described as a “dead arm.” Hate to say it, but Pelfrey has been awful lately and some Met fans have their concerns. There is the hope he regains the confidence he had to start the season with the All-Star break being the best remedy.

Jon Niese — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Niese has been a revelation this year. After returning from the disabled list on June 5, Niese has come back on a tear and has gone 5-0 upon his return. With his performance this year, Niese has proven to be a reliable back end starter and the one the Mets will continue to rely on for years.

R.A. Dickey — Starting Pitcher: Grade A
Where did this guy come from? In a year where Oliver Perez and John Maine’s injuries and ineffectiveness have cramped the Mets staff, Dickey has been a breath of fresh air. Dickey’s knuckleball has kept hitters guessing and has been a rock in the rotation with a 6-2 record and 2.77 ERA. The question is, can he keep it up?

Hisanori Takahashi — Starting Pitcher: Grade B
Takahashi is another pitcher filling in well since the demise of Perez and Maine. Takahashi, who started in the bullpen, has filled in admirably but has had a rough go of it lately. The Mets bumped him from the rotation this past week, but once the season resumes, Takahashi will be back on the mound with the starting staff. He has a lot of value in the bullpen, but will remain in the rotation unless the Mets make a trade for a starter.

Bobby Parnell — Relief Pitcher: Grade B+
Parnell has been all you could have asked for when he was called up in June. Parnell has a jumping fastball and he may have cemented himself as the primary set up guy for the Mets with his recent pitching.

Elmer Dessens — Relief Pitcher: Grade B+
Dessens for the most part has done a great job. He gets results on substance and not flash. His numbers (1.47 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) indicate that he is a vital member of the bullpen.

Pedro Feliciano — Relief Pitcher: Grade B
Feliciano is another solid vet who keeps getting the job done. He is no longer just a lefty specialist as Manuel sometimes leans on him late in games despite having to face some tough righties. Feliciano has proven to be consistent and expect that to carry into the second half.

Ryota Igarashi — Relief Pitcher: Grade D+
Ever since his injury in April, Igarashi has been up and down, but mostly down. If Feliciano is the model of consistency, Igarashi is the antithesis. Igarashi was just sent down to the minors to iron out his problems.

Fernando Nieve — Relief Pitcher: Grade C
Nieve has had a truly roller coaster season alternating some stellar performances with some obvious stinkers. Nieve, much like Igarashi, has been anything but consistent. It’s hard to be harsh on Nieve though as he was clearly overused in the beginning of the season.

Francisco Rodriguez — Relief Pitcher (Closer): Grade B
Rodriguez has been solid if unspectacular this season. He has had some bad blown saves and has served up a few too many hanging curveballs. But his other numbers (21 saves, 2.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP) suggest that he is still one of the better closers in the games.

Jerry Manuel — Manager: Grade B
As a manager you usually take too much credit when you win and too much blame when you lose. That statement fits Manuel to a T. Generally, the players like playing for him and after the team was in a 4-8 hole, there were concerns that Manuel could lose his job. But the ship has been righted and to some degree that is because of Manuel and not in spite of.

Other players either injured, sent down to the minors, have played sparingly or have been mitigated disasters will not receive a grade and they include:

Frank Catalanotto, Gary Matthews Jr., Oliver Perez, John Maine, Mike Jacobs, Tobi Stoner, Raul Valdes, Manny Acosta, Jesus Feliciano, Jenrry Mejia, Nick Evans and Sean Green.

Mets need pitcher dearLee

While it seems Johan Santana has found his groove again, and the Mets getting great contributions from Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey, the Mets rotation always seems to have a weak link(s) during stretches of the season.

It is now Mike Pelfrey and Hisanori Takahashi that are struggling. Pelfrey has struggled in his last two starts. In 9 1/3 innings pitched he has allowed 11 earned runs and 21 hits. In the end, I expect Pelfrey to bounce back and perform more like he was pitching in April and May, but these latest outings are alarming.

Takahashi is starting hit a rough patch too, and maybe it’s best he goes to the bullpen for good. In his last three starts, Takahashi has given up 15 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings pitched. Every second or third time through the batting order, Takahashi tires and gives in to the hitters.

In Sunday’s win over the Washington Nationals, Takahashi proved true to that theory. Through the first five innings he was cruising with an 8-0 lead. In the fifth, after allowing Nyjer Morgan and Christian Guzman to get on base, Takahashi served up a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman. He was removed, leaving five Met pitchers had to finish the game.

With Thursday an off day, the Mets have decided to skip Takahashi’s spot in the rotation as the Mets face the Braves this weekend in a key NL East showdown. Takahashi will now be available in the pen for that series and with the All-Star break ahead, the Mets can use a four-man rotation.

This move couldn’t have been more timely as the Met are carrying three catchers and they can use all the help in the bullpen. For the most part the bullpen has done its part, and the addition of Takahashi to the unit will only help.

With all that said, I am not suggesting, but imploring the Mets to go out and get Cliff Lee.

The Mets must know they have a shot. What other reason are the Mets carrying three catchers for than for them to showcase prospect Josh Thole.

It has been reported that if the Seattle Mariners trade Lee they would want a catching prospect in return. It is for that reason that the Minnesota Twins are considered the frontrunners. Since the Twins have Joe Mauer locked up for years, their other prized catching prospect Wilson Ramos has become a bargaining chip.

While he is not a prospect on par with Ramos, Thole has shown he can slap the ball to all parts of the field and get on base. So far this season, Thole has hit 5-10 while driving in four runs.

But the deal to get Lee is not exclusively about Thole, but other prospects, and this is where Jenrry Mejia comes into play. If Mejia’s rotator cuff holds up and gets back on the field soon, the Mets should package him along with Thole and Angel Pagan to get this deal done.

Heck at this time, I would even trade Niese to get Lee. Lee is that good.

Lee has allowed six walks in 103 2/3 innings pitched. In his last four starts (all wins), Lee has pitched three complete games with his last being an eight-inning masterpiece where he gave up one run while striking out 11 batters.

The Mets saw firsthand what Lee can do to a team’s staff and overall makeup as his pitching got the hated Philadelphia Phillies to another World Series. Lee carried the Phillies in 2009. Remember how Cole Hamels struggled last season? Lee was their ace, their rock. Just imagine his value to the Mets.

Every fifth day you get a lock down ace in Lee. Every fifth day you get an ace getting back into form in Santana. Every fifth day you get a guy who won’t feel much pressure while also exceed expectations in Pelfrey. Every fifth day you throw out an emerging ace in Niese (5-1 in last seven starts with an ERA just over 2.00).

That has the makings of a playoff staff and one that could surpass the Atlanta Braves atop the NL East. This weekend’s series against the Braves could prove to be monumental in the makeup of the team.

Yes, the staff as currently constituted can still contend for a playoff spot. And yes, the Mets can possibly trade for another decent starter at a reduced cost. (Newsday’s Ken Davidoff reports the Mets are interested in the Chicago Cubs Ted Lilly).

However, a move for Lee can put the Mets over the top. It could be a move that irritates both the Phillies and the Yankees. It could cause a splash that could send ripples up and down the Hudson River.

And let’s not worry about whether you can sign him next off-season. Leave that for another day and try to win a championship today.

Isn’t that what you play for?

Rocky Road trip ends with win

The New York Mets (46-36) plated eight runs in the first four innings on their way to a 9-5 win over the Washington Nationals Sunday, ending a seven-game road trip.

“That felt like it was more than seven days,” said Jason Bay after the game.

The Mets completed the trip 3-4. They are now 18-24 on the road this season. The Mets win combined with the Atlanta Braves 3-2 loss to the Florida Marlins, moved New York within two games of the top of the National League East.

New York Mets @ Washington Nationals … recap and boxscore

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Post Game:

Hisanori Takahasi (7-3, 4.32) pitched five innings, allowing three runs and five hits (86 pitches/56 pitches). He struck out seven and walked two.

Jerry Manuel used five relievers to complete the final four innings — Elmer Dessens, Pedro Feliciano, Ryota Igarashi, Bobby Parnell and Francisco Rodriguez.  In four innings pitched, the Mets ‘pen combined to give up two runs, seven hits, strking out five Nationals.

Angel Pagan got his groove back, going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and a walk.

David Wright has raised his batting average to .315 with two more hits. Wright has 10 multi-hit games in his last 13 starts (since June 22).

Ike Davis hit a long two-run home run off Craig Stammen in third inning. Jason Bay had a two-hit game with a triple and four RBI.

Rod Barajas is showing signs of life at the plate. He had two hits including a double, a run and a walk.

Post Game Quotes:

Francisco Rodriguez (on rebound performance):

“That’s the best that can happen — give me the opportunity the next day to go out there and shut the door, especially after the embarrassing performance I had yesterday. I just wanted to go out there and redeem myself.”

Francisco Rodriguez (on facing Adam Dunn):

“A little revenge. Yesterday, it was pretty obvious, was his day. He got a good pitch to hit, and you guys know the result. And today I got the opportunity to get back — do a little a flashback and make sure not to repeat the same mistake I did the night before and make sure to wrap up that victory. I was a little more aggressive. I was attacking the strike zone quick. I was able to make the pitches earlier in the count. That’s what I was looking for the night before. Everything today seemed to be a lot better. The command was there. The velocity was there.”

Jason Bay (on the Nats):

“These guys battle us right to the end every single game. It’s the way it’s been all year.  Now, 8-0 is kind of insurmountable. Five runs, all of a sudden, you’re back in the game. We kind of held it together there, albeit not in a timely fashion. But we did. That’s all the matters.”

David Wright (on the road trip):

“We had some difficult travel days and some difficult games, some rain. It could have been better; it could have been worse. It ends up an average road trip for us.”

Mets rally but lose in 9th

The New York Mets (43-34) rallied from six runs behind to tie the game in the ninth, only to lose in the bottom of the inning, 7-6 to the Florida Marlins.

The Mets are 0-6 on the road against the Florida Marlins and are now 15-22 on the road overall this season.

New York Mets @ Florida Marlins … recap and boxscore

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Post Game Notes:

Hisanori Takahashi was hit hard in his second straight start. All of the damage was done after two were out and no one on base in the third inning. Takahashi surrendered five hits (including two home runs) and a walk. His final line: 5 2/3 IP, 6 ER, 9 hits, 4 K, 2 BB.

Bobby Parnell pitched 2/3 of a scoreless seventh inning, allowing two hits.  Parnell has not allowed a run in five appearances since being recalled two weeks ago.

Francisco Rodriguez pitched the eighth inning, recording two strikeouts.

Pedro Feliciano (2-3, 1.99) pitched the ninth and took the loss, allowing two hits and one earned run.

David Wright is now batting .310, going 3-for-4 in the game.

Ruben Tejada went 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI.

Fernando Tatis started at first base. He picked up his first hit since May 23.

//

Mets comeback falls short

Trailing by five runs, the New York Mets (41-31) scored three runs in the sixth inning, another in the seventh, but the comeback fell short, losing 6-5 to the Detroit Tigers. The loss drops the Mets one-half game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

The Mets are now 26-11 at home and 11-4 in interleague play. They open their final interleague series Friday night at Citi Field against the Minnesota Twins.

Detroit Tigers @ New York Mets … recap and boxscore

Post Game Notes:

Hisanori Takahashi pitched 4+ innings, allowing six runs, eight hits, 4 K, 4 BB and two home runs (92 pitches/58 strikes). He pitched to four batters in the fifth inning, before being relieved by Elmer Dessens. Dessens pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit (23 pitches/15 strikes). His ERA dropped to 0.77 in 11 appearances.

Bobby Parnell pitched a scoreless seventh inning, walking one and striking out the side.

Jesus Feliciano started in Angel Pagan‘s stead, going 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.

David Wright added two hits, including an RBI double. He also chalked up two more strikeouts, including once with the bases loaded and the tying run at third base with one out in the seventh inning.

Ruben Tejada delivered an eighth inning single, extending his hitting streak to eight games. Tejada was also hit by a pitch and scored a run.

Trailing 6-5, the Mets left five runners on base between the seventh and eighth innings.