Jonathon Niese: One constant for Mets

NieseNot a lot has gone right for the Mets this season, but if there has been one constant bright spot, it has been the pitching of Jon Niese.

To be fair, Dillon Gee would get props here as well, but he unfortunately had to go on the disabled list for a short stretch (and he could be out two more starts, as he has yet to pitch off a mound). Otherwise, he was perhaps the most consistent Mets’ pitcher prior to going down with an lat injury.

However, you gotta give a lot of credit to Niese, though. As he has stayed healthy and been the true anchor in the Mets rotation. When the Mets have needed a lift, they have gotten it from Niese, as he has come through time and time again this year.

After the Mets dropped two straight to the Dodgers and looking pretty lifeless in the process, Niese came in to save the day. Niese pitched a quality outing (7 innings pitched with three runs allowd on four hits and three walks while striking out five batters), while getting enough offense and Jenrry Mejia locking it down in the ninth to pick up his third win of the season.

While the wins are not high, consider the fact that he has seven quality outings in his nine starts. In fact, he has not given up more than three runs in any of his starts and has also gone at least 5 and 2/3 innings in each start except one. He has been the definition of consistency and dependability.

Sure, he wont wow you with his stuff like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler or a Noah Syndergaard will, but just like Gee, he just continues to get the job done.

Niese is now 3-3 on the year to go along with a 2.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He also has 43 K’s to just 15 walks in 56 and 2/3 innings pitched. After overcoming some shoulder problems last year and elbow issues earlier in the spring, Niese is starting to really get it in gear again.

While he is no No. 1 pitcher or perhaps even a No. 2, he is a force in the middle of the rotation and he has been the rock the Mets have relied on to somewhat stay afloat. There is not telling where the Mets would be if Niese wasn’t pitching this well.

If Niese can keep this up, maybe he can be part of the all-star team in July. For now, though Mets fans should be thankful we have him around and that he is in good health.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Mets360 2013 projections: Jonathon Niese

Welcome to the second edition of the Mets360 projection series. After discussing Ike Davis last time out, this time we turn our attention to Jonathon Niese. Last time, I mentioned how none of us have a detailed projection system and that instead this is just how we feel the player is going to turn out. For the most part that’s still true but there is one slight modification this time around.

Friend of the site Eric Stashin, aka The Rotoprofessor, has graciously agreed to contribute to the project. Stashin makes projections for his site and has done so for years. If you play fantasy sports and are not familiar with his work – bookmark his site and visit there often.

With the trade of R.A. Dickey, Niese essentially becomes the ace of the staff, at least for 2013. Johan Santana will likely draw the Opening Day start but it is difficult to predict either the innings or the results for Santana to make him the actual ace. And while Niese probably will not grab the Opening Day assignment, it’s not out of the question he won’t pitch on the second day, either, if Terry Collins wants to split up the lefties in his rotation.

Anyone know the last time a team’s projected ace pitched third the first go-thru for a club? Perhaps there’s someone who was coming off an injury, but can you think of a healthy guy?

Regardless, here are our individual projections for Niese:

Niese Projection IP ERA Ks BB WHIP
Gray 185.1 3.90 145 57 1.320
Groveman 196.2 3.46 183 52 1.181
Hangley 189 3.57 160 73 1.295
Joura 210 3.60 175 58 1.215
Koehler 195 3.80 150 45 1.200
Mcwilliam 147.1 4.69 130 45 1.400
Parker 185 3.70 135 55 1.350
Rogan 192 3.30 158 48 1.166
Rogers 185 4.00 150 50 1.550
Stack 195 3.55 165 51 1.250
Stashin 200 3.47 173 55 1.190
Vasile 195 3.50 160 45 1.200
Walendin 205 3.70 165 56 1.210

Since we did not forecast all of the individual numbers that go into ERA and WHIP, we are going to use median for those numbers and average for the counting numbers to come up with our Mets360 forecast. Here is what our group as a whole projects for Niese in 2013:

After back-to-back seasons of putting up stronger peripherals than results, Niese broke the trend last year. Nearly everyone sees him putting up an ERA in the threes, unlike the 4.30 ERA he posted over the 2010-11 seasons combined. Bryan Mcwilliam is the pessimist in the group, as he predicts fewer innings and a higher ERA for Niese than he’s had since becoming a full-time starter in 2010. It will be interesting to see if he can address his thoughts about this in the comments section.

Finally, let’s close with a table comparing the Mets360 numbers to those of two projection systems – Bill James and ZiPS.

Niese Projection IP ERA Ks BB WHIP
Bill James 190 3.98 153 54 1.347
Mets360 190.2 3.60 158 53 1.215
ZiPS 177.1 3.91 150 49 1.274

The Bill James numbers are usually thought of as the most “optimistic” among the detailed projection systems. It’s hard not to notice that our projections are even more optimistic. To me, the interesting thing is that compared to James, our projections are extremely similar in IP, Ks and BB. Where they are more optimistic is in ERA and WHIP. Since the walks are similar, obviously we feel Niese is going to do better in the hits allowed category.

James forecasts that Niese will allow 202 hits in 190 IP for a H/9 mark of 9.6 for the year. Backing out from our other numbers, we are essentially predicting that Niese will allow 179 hits for an 8.5 H/9. ZiPS projects a 9.0 H/9 for Niese in 2013.

Check back Saturday for our next entry in this series.

Why Jonathon Niese should be traded

There are two reasons why the Mets are not winning; their bullpen is in shamble and there is not enough power in the lineup. Since bullpen production can change dramatically year from year, Sandy Alderson should be worrying about supplying this line up with another right handed power bat to hit fifth and provide protection for Ike Davis. That bat is not going to come by means of free agency, so Alderson will have to pull off a trade. Guess who his best trade chip is? Maybe it is that young left handed starting pitcher with a controllable contract and success at the major league level.

Jonathon Niese was the Mets starting rotation’s unsung hero this year. With a record of 13-9 and an ERA of 3.40, Niese was the stabilizing arm in the middle of the rotation all year long. Niese’s salary of 3 million dollars next year will go down as one of the true bargains in all of baseball. Only 25 years old, there is no reason to believe Niese will regress, but instead he will improve as he enters his prime. That is why the Mets should trade him.

The Mets farm system is not getting as much respect as it should be getting. From Matt Harvey showing glimpses of what Mets fans can expect for the next decade, to Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings and being hailed as a top ten prospect in baseball, to younger prospects like Michael Fulmer and Rafael Montero dominating their levels this year, the Mets are in great shape when it comes to starting pitching depth. As players age and their contracts expire, the Mets will have no problem replacing their starting pitchers over next few years.

With a surplus of quality starting pitching prospects, the Mets can start dealing from that strength to plug the holes on this team. R.A. ‘Cy Young’ Dickey’s emergence allows the Mets to have this flexibility. As of now the Mets have Dickey, Dillon Gee, Harvey, Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Santana, and possibly Wheeler in the mix for the starting rotation in 2013. If the Mets were to trade Niese, they could run out a rotation of Dickey, Gee, Harvey, Santana, and Wheeler (this is assuming he could beat Pelfrey out for the spot which would allow the Mets to try Pelfrey out as a closer). That is a rotation the Mets could win with even though the loss of Niese’s consistency in the middle of the order would be felt as Harvey and Wheeler go through their growing pains as younger players.

So who could Niese haul back? This writer is not here to start rumors, but there has been a lot of chatter about a possible Niese for Justin Upton swap. Sandy might have to part with an extra arm or two (arms like Luis Mateo and Domingo Tapia), but it would be a trade he would have to pull the trigger on. His 17 HR production from this year and 2010 does not scream power hitter, but his 26 HRs from 2009 and his 31 HRs from 2011 certainly does (in 2011, at the age of 23, Upton finished 4th in NL MVP voting).

Upton has been in the league so long people forget that he is only 25 years old yet he has 6 years of MLB experience. He has not even entered his prime yet and is young and controllable until 2015. Also, he is a childhood friend of Wright and could convince Wright that the Mets are heading in the right direction as an organization. With a middle of the order of Wright-Davis-Upton, the Mets line up could be dangerous for years.

Niese for Upton. Makes a whole lot of sense doesn’t it?

Amid Mets’ misery, at least Jon Niese is showing signs of finishing strong

This is just is getting downright depressing.

Yes, the Mets yet again lost again last night (3-1), this time to the hapless Houston Astros, a team that has dropped 36 out of their last 43 games prior to Friday. The Mets are now currently riding a six-game losing streak.

There appears to be no end in sight, as the wheels have completely come off the bus.

As much as we have maligned this club for its utter ineptitude of late, I thought I’d dole out some praise in the face of agonizing frustration. With that said, have you noticed how good Jonathon Niese has been pitching lately?

In the Mets’ last 12 games they are 3-9 and Niese has been the winning pitcher in two of the contests. And last night, Niese deserved a better fate as he pitched a solid game, completing seven innings and allowing three runs on six hits and two walks. Alas, Niese was tagged with the loss.

Actually the whole staff deserves better, as several of the Mets’ starters have kept the Mets in most games of late. In the last seven games for the Mets, the offense has been good for no more than two runs in a single game!

Getting back to Niese though, his recent stretch is a very encouraging sign. In his last three outings, Niese is 2-1 while pitching 22.1 innings and allowing just four earned runs on 17 hits and four walks.

It’s looking like Niese is finally turning that corner and streaking to close out the season. That was always a big bugaboo for Niese. He would always start out great but falter and/or get hurt down the stretch. However, he looks to be gaining steam as the season winds down.

For a staff that will be depending on Dickey, some young emerging hurlers (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler) and a couple of pitchers coming off injuries (Johan Santana and Dillon Gee) for the foreseeable future, Niese will be a reliable front-end pitcher to count on. Niese is giving the Mets everything they could have hoped for when they locked him up long-term in the spring with a reasonable 5-year $25.5 million contract (with options for 2017 and 2018 that could push it to $46 million).

While Dickey is the pitcher getting all the fanfare (and rightfully so) and Harvey generating the most buzz, there is Niese in the background quietly doing a very good job stabilizing a rotation that has been ravaged by injuries and inconsistencies.

Although these are trying time for Mets’ fans, at least we could find solace in some silver linings and Niese’s strong finish is something we can hang our hats on.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Jonathon Niese continues quest to be frontline starting pitcher

The Mets came into Sunday night’s game having lost five of their last six games and 21 of their last 29. Additionally, they had dropped seven straight games this season to the Braves. The way the second half has unfolded means there’s no such thing as a “must-win” game for the 2012 Mets. Nevertheless, Jonathon Niese’s outing last night was like a breath of fresh air.

With the bullpen having worked 7.2 innings in Saturday’s game, Niese gave the club exactly what it needed, with eight strong innings. He handed a 6-1 game over to the pen and that was enough – barely – for the Mets to get the win.

Niese has a 3.67 ERA for the season which is right in line with his 3.96 FIP and 3.63 xFIP. The three previous seasons, Niese’s ERA has been above, and in most cases significantly above, his estimators. In 2011, he had a 4.40 ERA compared to a 3.36 FIP and a 3.28 xFIP. In the past, Niese has been done in by elevated BABIPs and a slightly below average strand rate. This year he has a deflated BABIP but an elevated HR rate.

The only run Niese surrendered last night came on a gopher ball and for the year he has a 14.1 HR/FB rate, a career-worst mark. It’s tied for the 14th-highest rate in MLB this season among 100 qualified starters on the FanGraphs leaderboards.

In all, Niese has surrendered 19 HR in 144.2 IP. Ten of those 19 HR have been solo shots, five have been two-runs blasts and four have been three-run homers. Furthermore, twice Niese has given up two homers in a game and once he allowed four HR in a single contest. Let’s break down his season by HR allowed.

No homers: 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA
One homer: 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA
Multiple HR: 1-2 with a 10.95 ERA

Not all HR are created equally. Let’s combine Niese’s record in games where he does not allow a HR and games like last night, where he allowed just a solo homer. Then his record is 9-2 with a 2.38 ERA, which includes his game on June 22nd, when he allowed two solo homers.

Ranking qualified pitchers by xFIP, Niese checks in as 23rd-best. Doing the same thing with ERA, Niese is 36th. Finally, if we sort qualified pitchers by innings, Niese ranks 30th. So far in 2012, Niese has been a low-end SP1 or a high-end SP2.

Of course we have seen strong starts by Niese in 2010 and 2011 done in by poor finishes. His lifetime ERA in August is 4.60 and it’s 7.09 in September so we have to wait and see what happens the rest of the season before we can make any firm judgments.

Still, at this point it appears that Niese has taken a step forward and it means the decision to extend his contract was a good one. Back in the beginning of April, the Mets signed Niese to a five-year deal with two club options. Niese gets steady raises throughout the life of his contract but he will be a bargain if he continues to pitch like this, even in his second club option season, where the Mets can retain him in 2018 for an $11 million salary.

Being stingy with walks fuels Jonathon Niese’s hot stretch

In the last five games the Mets are 4-1 while the Phillies are 0-5. Combined with New York being six games over .500 and Philadelphia nine games under, it’s understandable why the Mets come into their three game-set with the defending NL East champs almost a bit cocky. Josh Thole is shooting to go 5-1 in the six games remaining before the All-Star break, which would winning at least two out of three against the Phillies.

Jonathon Niese takes the hill in the series opener, the fourth time this season he has squared off against the Phillies. Niese threw 6.2 scoreless against Philadelphia and picked up the win on April 14th but has no-decisions in his last two outings against the club. The Mets also won the second game Niese started (5-2) but the Phillies won the last time they faced him. On May 28th, Niese allowed 4 ER in 5 IP but escaped with a no-decision in the team’s 8-4 loss.

The no-decision was a rare poor outing for Niese here recently. In his last seven games, the big lefty has gone 4-1 with a 2.35 ERA. In 46 IP, he’s struck out 46 batters, allowed 12 walks and five homers. He’s got a 3.8 K/BB ratio while fanning a batter per inning. Niese’s success is not a case where the hits just aren’t falling in – he’s got a .301 BABIP in the span. Instead, he is doing everything you hope a pitcher would do.

In the no-decision against the Phillies, Niese allowed 5 BB in 5 IP. In five games since then – against the Cardinals, the Yankees (2X), Reds and Cubs – Niese has surrendered just 5 BB in 33.1 IP. The base on balls has been an excellent barometer for how well he has pitched this season. In games where he has a BB/9 of 3.0 or fewer, Niese is 5-1. His only loss came when he allowed a first-inning, 3-run homer to Jay Bruce in a game where he tossed 7 IP and gave up 1 BB.

The Phillies come into Tuesday night’s game ranked 14th in the National League with 204 walks, 72 behind the first-place Mets in the category. They are middle of the pack versus southpaws, as they rank eighth in the league with a .711 OPS versus LHP. One thing they perform quite well in is homers versus lefties. They rank second in the league with 31 HR versus portsiders.

Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz are the Phillies’ two main weapons against lefties. Victorino has a 1.014 OPS versus LHP this year, with 5 HR in 73 ABs. Ruiz has a .982 OPS and 12 RBIs in 63 ABs. John Mayberry and Ty Wigginton also have 5 HR versus southpaws this season, with Mayberry going deep against Niese on May 28th in Philadelphia. Mayberry has had the most success of any active player for the Phillies versus Niese, as he has a 1.077 OPS with 3 HR and 7 RBIs in 22 ABs.

Niese has displayed no great home/road split this season but has not fared particularly well in Citizens Bank Park throughout his career. Lifetime, he’s 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts in Philadelphia.

If Niese wins tonight, it’ll be his third straight win and the victory will be his fifth in his last six decisions. If history holds, Niese should continue to have success limiting walks. He’ll need only to come up with a new plan for Mayberry to earn his seventh win of the season.

Breaking down Jonathon Niese’s new contract

So far things are going well for the Mets in the 2012 season. Johan Santana looked great in his first outing, the bullpen hasn’t allowed a run yet, David Wright looks like his old self, and they are actually hitting balls out of the ballpark. On top of their undefeated record (yeah I said it) they made a smart move signing Jonathon Niese to a contract extension. With everything going right I say we just pack it up now and call it a successful season.

But first, let’s take a look at Niese’s shiny new contract. It’s a five year contract which means he is signed through the 2016 season. There are also club options for 2017 and 2018. The deal is worth $24.7695M in salary for the first five years. He also received $0.25M in a signing bonus and his buyout in 2017 is for $0.5M. That brings the guaranteed money for his contract to $25.5195M.

As far as a year-by-year breakdown this season Niese will be making $0.7695M. In 2013 he’ll make $3M, 2014 he’ll make $5M, 2015 he’ll make $7M, and in 2016 he’ll make $9M. His option for 2017 is $10M and for 2018 is $11M, with a $0.5M buyout for each of the club options. If the Mets do pick up both of his options to total deal will be worth seven years, $46.0195M. Nowhere did it mention any trade clauses, so I’m assuming there are no restrictions if they choose to trade him, but details about this might emerge later.

For me a felt this deal was a breath of fresh air. With all the stupid contracts baseball is handing out to guys like Joey Votto, it’s nice to see the Mets make a deal like this. It is a slightly risky deal, but I feel the pros outweigh the cons and this deal favors the Mets.

Looking at Niese he has the potential to be one of the best left-handers in the game. He also will be a part of a future rotation that could include Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and potentially Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia. It gives the Mets a core group of pitchers that could be with the team for at least the next seven years.

After announcing the signing of Niese, Sandy Alderson said he is looking to build around core players. He said they will have their core young players as their foundation, and fill in small holes with free agents. They don’t want to relaying on free agents for a good team and successful teams don’t rely on free agents to be good.

For the next couple of years the Mets need to build around their farm system and thoroughly assess what they have. When they are ready to make a run at the playoffs they should fill in holes with free agents.

Next the Mets need to focus on locking down Ike Davis. He’s contract might be a little tougher to work out though.

 

Latos deal validates high price tag for Niese

Many people are baffled by why the Mets are shopping/listening to offers for Jonathon Niese. Last night the reason should have become crystal clear. The Padres traded Mat Latos to the Reds and received four players who all have a chance to be contributors on a pennant-winning team. The popular perception is that Latos is a much better pitcher than Niese. But if we look at xFIP, here’s what they’ve produced the past two years:

Latos Niese
2010 3.21 3.80
2011 3.52 3.28
Total 3.36 3.55

To expand on the comparison, Latos, a righty, turned 24 in the offseason and has tossed 429.2 IP in the majors. Niese, a lefty, turned 25 in the offseason and has thrown 370.2 IP in the majors. In the past two years, Latos has 379.0 IP while Niese has 331.0 IP. Neither pitcher has reached 200 IP in a season and both have struggled with some injuries.

Latos has had oblique, shoulder and ankle injuries while Niese has suffered hamstring and rib injuries.

If you asked 100 people in baseball if they would rather have Latos or Niese, 100 of them would probably say Latos. But while Latos is clearly better the difference between them in age, quality and durability is not nearly as decisive. If Latos is worth four quality young players/prospects, suddenly it’s not so far-fetched to think that Niese is worth two plus some filler.

Earlier reports were that Toronto was interested and that the package would include top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and a back-end SP candidate – one who had already pitched in the majors. d’Arnaud was once one of the top prospects in the Phillies organization and he was sent to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay deal. After a strong start to his professional career, he suffered two uninspiring seasons in the minors before posting a .914 OPS in Double-A as a 22 year old.

New Hampshire is a slight hitter’s park but d’Arnaud was not just a product of his home park. Here are his home/road splits last year:

H – .269/.345/.492 with 10 HR in 220 PA
R – .339/.387/.571 with 11 HR in 243 PA

Catchers develop at odd intervals and no one would have been surprised if he put up these numbers in 2009. Even with his less than glowing 2009 and 2010 seasons, d’Arnaud was rated as the #36 prospect in the minors by Baseball America prior to the start of last season.

Of course, Toronto’s interest in Niese may vanish if they end up being the team to win the bidding rights to Yu Darvish. But even if the potential deal with the Blue Jays disintegrates, the Mets are still not crazy to insist for a lot in return for their young lefty. The Latos deal last night is just the latest indication of how teams view quality young pitchers.

Potential Mets trading partner: Dodgers

It’s always nice to have someone worse off than you. For the Mets, we can always say – at least we’re not the Dodgers. Sure, the Dodgers won more games in 2011 and have bigger stars on the major league roster. But their ownership is a disaster, players seem unsure if they want to be there and the minor league system is unlikely to pump out four or five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners like it did from ’79-’82 and from ’92-’96.

You could make the argument that the Dodgers are in better position, because once the McCourt issue plays out, the Dodgers get new owners and many of their problems disappear. But Frank McCourt seems intent to do everything in his power to drag this out as long as possible, which from the Dodgers’ perspective means the 2012 season could very well have McCourt remaining as the team’s owner, yet still facing a severe cash shortage.

If this is indeed the way things play out, the Dodgers could look to move players signed to reasonable contracts given their production but still ones that are hard for a cash-strapped owner to afford. Here’s a look at some players the Dodgers might consider moving:

Andre Ethier – arbitration-eligible – likely to receive around $12 million
Ted Lilly – $12 million (last season of 3-year contract)
Chad Billingsley – $9 million (first season of 3-year contract)

All three of these players would be attractive for the Mets, although they would likely prefer some money to come back with Lilly if he was the only one acquired. The Dodgers may not be willing to part with pitching, given the free agent status of both Jon Garland (team option for $8 million) and Hiroki Kuroda. Regardless, the Dodgers are on the hook for $46.2 million for five players and have arbitration cases with Ethier, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo. Additionally, Jonathan Broxton and several role players are free agents.

The Dodgers are likely to bring Loney back as their first baseman, although he’s never displayed the HR power you would prefer from the position. Dee Gordon has SS locked up but there are question marks for the club at both 2B and 3B. Jamey Carroll turns 38 in the offseason and is a free agent while Casey Blake, who has a $6 million team option, turned 38 during the 2011 season. Ivan DeJesus is an option at 2B, and so is bringing back Carroll on a cheap deal.

Third base seems like more of an issue. Last year, Juan Uribe (56 OPS+), Aaron Miles (84 OPS+) and Blake (99 OPS+) saw the most time at the position, with Uribe’s 463.3 innings at third, 53 starts, topping the ledger. Uribe is one of the five players the Dodgers have under contract for 2012 and the club has a history with Blake, having traded Carlos Santana to get him back in 2008. Still, it’s hard as an outsider not to look at 3B as a position the Dodgers have to upgrade.

The Mets could send Daniel Murphy to Los Angeles, where he could play his natural position of third base. They could also send Lucas Duda, who would provide more of a long ball threat at first base than Loney. Minor league outfielders like Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Matt den Dekker could be valuable trade chits, as well, since more of the Dodgers top prospects are pitchers. Perhaps one of the Mets’ collection of fourth starters would have value if the Dodgers gave up a pitcher.

There seems to be ways for the two teams to make a deal, if the Dodgers are concerned about payroll. If not, then it becomes significantly harder. It seems odd to think about the Mets being able to add payroll, but they do have some money to spend, especially if Jose Reyes goes elsewhere. The key will be getting value, which seems more likely for the Mets in the trade market than via free agency.

But with the Dodgers, it gets tricky. How much is Ethier worth, since he’s eligible for free agency in 2013? Billingsley looked very good in 2008 and 2010 and more like Mike Pelfrey in 2009 and 2011 – do you pay any kind of premium for that? These types of decisions are why Sandy Alderson makes the big bucks.

Here’s a blockbuster to chew on, a type of deal that gets made in fantasy baseball but not real life. This is not meant as a serious proposal, but something more of a thought exercise – one that provides value to both clubs:

Mets get – Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe
Dodgers get – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese

Why Mets do it
Ethier an upgrade in RF, Billingsley is a 27-year old one season removed from a 4.5 WAR, get out from Bay’s contract. With no emotional attachment to Loney, they non-tender him and save millions.

Why Dodgers do it

Get three pre-arbitration players, two of which fill needs. Giving up roughly $35 million in 2012 salary and take on roughly $17.5 million, which is a huge deal for a cash-strapped owner. Duda is an upgrade on Loney, Murphy an upgrade over whoever else would play 3B. Niese’s 2011 3.28 xFIP is much better than Billingsley’s 4.14 xFIP.

Why trade would not get done
No one wants Jason Bay, Dodgers feel it’s too much risk taking on two players coming back from injury in Murphy and Niese, Mets not willing to assume roughly $12.5 million more in payroll or worried that Ethier is strictly a rental and not worth sacrificing three cost-controlled assets.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup after the deal:

Reyes
Tejada
Wright
Davis
Ethier
Pagan
Nieuwenhuis
Thole

Nieuwenhuis gets to break in the majors playing LF and the Mets outfield defense improves tremendously by getting Duda out of RF, as well as having two nominal CF in the other slots. Ethier reversed recent trends by having a good defensive year in 2011, but even if he returns to 2008-10 levels, he’s still significantly better than Duda.

Santana, Billingsley, Dickey, Capuano, Pelfrey with Gee in reserve for the rotation. Do you think that’s a team that can contend for the Wild Card?

Mets Notes: Tejada v Turner, Izzy usage & HR

At the start of Spring Training, one of the biggest questions facing the Mets was who was going to be the club’s starting second baseman. Nearly 130 games into the season, not much has changed. Sure, Justin Turner has held down the position for the great majority of the year but his hold seems tenuous, at best. Terry Collins has dropped him from second to eighth in the lineup and once Jose Reyes returns, Ruben Tejada may take over the position and force Turner to the bench.

In his last 94 PA, Turner has a .176/.255/.306 line. Since May 31st, Turner has a .228/.304/.316 line in 304 PA, all but 11 of which came with him batting second in the batting order. Perhaps the greatest difference between traditional lineup construction and an optimized batting order is how the two treat the second slot in the order. Traditionally, the second slot has been reserved for a player willing to give himself up and go the other way. The optimal lineup views the second spot in the order as one of the most important slots, one where you should consider putting your best hitter.

The traditional lineup made sense in the 1960s, when teams like the Mets averaged fewer then three runs per game. Give yourself up, make productive outs and help your team score one run. But when the average team scores over four runs per game like they do here in the 21st Century, that makes less sense. Unless it’s an end of the game situation, you want your hitters to, you know, hit the ball, preferably with authority.

And Turner just hasn’t done that on a regular basis since the end of May.

Meanwhile, since being recalled on August 8th, Tejada has a .358/.452/.472 line in 63 PA. He’s a more preferable option as a starter than Turner but it’s debatable if he should be hitting second in the order. On a good team he should hit eighth. It would be nice if the Mets could bat David Wright second although I am not holding my breath waiting for that. Daniel Murphy would be another good choice for that slot in the order, if he comes back healthy and is not dealt.

IDEAL IZZY USAGE – Now that Jason Isringhausen has recorded his 300th career save, the Mets seem willing to give Bobby Parnell a shot at closing games. Well, better late than never. Isringhausen has been one of the feel-good stories of the year and I’m hoping he will be part of the 2012 Mets, too. If he does come back, I hope the Mets investigate the best way to deploy him. There were worries early on about his ability to pitch on back-to-back days. But for the most part Isringhausen has been up to that task.

Where he hasn’t done very well is bouncing back after giving up a run. Five times this year, Isringhausen gave up a run in an appearance and then pitched the next day. Four times he allowed runs in the follow-up appearance, too. With a young pitcher, frequently the best thing to do is get him back on the mound immediately after a bad performance. But for an older pitcher like Isringhausen, rest seems to be the better option after a rough outing.

PRIDIE’S PINCH-HITTING PREDICAMENT – One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to be a successful pinch-hitter. It’s especially true for youngsters, who are used to playing every day and getting at least three trips to the plate per game. Jason Pridie is 3-19 (.158) as a pinch-hitter this season. When he was getting regular ABs in his normal position of CF earlier this season, Pridie had a .253/.321/.424 line in 112 PA.

OFFENSE BOGS DOWN WHEN POWER RETURNS – When the lineup was without Ike Davis and David Wright, the Mets were missing two of their top HR threats. After an initial period where they struggled to score runs, the Mets found a way to score without hitting many HR. From May 21 to June 26th, the Mets hit just 10 HR yet scored 157 runs and went 17-17. From July 31st to August 24th, the Mets hit 22 HR but scored just 92 runs and have gone 6-16.

NIESE HITS WALL AGAIN – Last season Jonathon Niese was 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA after picking up a win on August 21st. The rest of the season he went 1-5 with a 7.57 ERA over his final seven games. This year Niese was 9-7 with a 3.73 ERA after picking up a win on July 16th. Since then he is 2-4 with a 6.46 ERA. Niese’s peripherals are still strong, as he has 8 BB and 40 Ks in 39 IP. But he’s been victimized by the gopher ball (5 HR in 39 IP) and he sports a .411 BABIP in that span.

Mets Notes: Acosta’s LI, Wright’s K% & Niese’s QS

Since the All-Star break, Manny Acosta has been the Mets’ best reliever. Tim Byrdak has a better ERA (1.80 versus 2.19) but Acosta has faced more than twice as many batters (48-22) and has given up three runs overall to Byrdak’s four. No other reliever is close to their ERA.

Acosta’s effective stretch goes back further than the break. In his last 16 games, he has 17 IP, 3 BB and 16 Ks and has posted a 1.59 ERA. In his last 16 games, Pedro Beato has a 4.80 ERA with more walks (10) than strikeouts (8) and Bobby Parnell has a 6.06 ERA in his last 16 appearances.

Still, Terry Collins is hesitant to use Acosta in meaningful game situations. He has a Leverage Index (LI) of 0.44 – the lowest of any pitcher on the staff right now and lower than anyone who has pitched this year for the Mets besides Pat Misch. LI is a measure of how important the situation is that the player appears in. A normal LI is around 1.0 while 10% of all real game situations have a LI of 2.0 or greater. These usually happen in the late innings of close games. Acosta is generally used by Collins when the game is not close.

Beato and Parnell have essentially thrown gasoline on the fire when they have come into games recently. Hopefully, Acosta can work his way into more useful situations down the stretch. He was dealt a setback recently with an injured finger, but X-Rays showed no fracture and Acosta is listed as day-to-day.

WRIGHT’S RETURN A SMASHING SUCCESS – In 19 games since returning from the disabled list, David Wright has a .354/.395/.544 line in 86 PA. Compare that to the .226/.337/.404 line he had before being sidelined. Wright has a .385 BABIP in this stretch, which ordinarily would be a huge red flag. But he has a lifetime .342 BABIP and he posted a .394 BABIP in the 2009 season..

The most impressive thing about Wright since his return is what’s happening with his strikeout rate. Before the DL stint, he had a 25.0 K%. Since returning, his K% has dropped to 14.0 percent. Wright is standing even closer to the plate than before and he is not pulling out with his back side and the results speak for themselves.

METS ON HR SURGE – The Mets have hit 23 HR in 26 games since the All-Star break. If they kept that pace up over a 162-game season, they would finish with 143 HR and establish a HR record for the club since moving into Citi Field. Five different players have 3 HR each – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston, Angel Pagan and Wright – so far in the second half. Before the All-Star break, the Mets hit 58 HR in 91 games, a pace that would give them 103 HR over 162 games.

ZiPS FORECASTS TURNER PERFECTLY – The preseason forecast from ZiPS on Justin Turner saw a .267/.320/.377 line and a .697 OPS. So far this year, Turner has a .267/.332/.364 line for a .696 OPS. Many have acted like what Turner has given the Mets this year has been outstanding production from out of nowhere. Instead, he is performing exactly like we think he should be. The only difference is how the stats were accumulated. Turner got off to a hot start, which clinched his reputation in many minds. He followed that up with a sub-replacement stretch. And since the All-Star break, he has a .263/.336/.364 line. This is who he is.

NIESE QUALITY – In his last outing, Jonathon Niese tied a season high with 7.2 innings pitched. It was his 14th Quality Start of the season, as he allowed just 2 ER. A lot of people dismiss Quality Starts as a useful gauge of pitching because you can get one for allowing 3 ER in 6 IP. You can also get a Save for allowing 4 ER in 0.1 IP and you can allow any number of runs and get a win if you pitch five innings. You can’t look at the worst possible outcome and conclude a statistic is no good because of that. Of Niese’s 14 Quality Starts in 2011, only two were of the bare minimum standards.

What do the 2011 Mets lack in SP?

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.