Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dillon Gee vs. Jonathon Niese: Who Should Be Traded?

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports/Getty Images via

I love watching Dillon Gee pitch.  Similarly, I am a fan of Jonathon Niese.

Although the Mets have been under .500 every season Gee has pitched in the majors, Gee himself has a won-loss record that is six games over .500 and he has never been more than one game under the break-even mark over a full season.  Jonathon Niese, on the other hand, is one of the few Mets left on the team who played at Shea Stadium (David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell are the others, although Murphy and Parnell may not be on this list much longer).  Niese is also the team's only southpaw on a staff filled with right-handed pitchers.

As much as I enjoy having Gee and Niese on the team, I understand that the starting rotation currently has Bartolo Colon, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom taking up four spots, with Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings.  Assuming Colon is traded at some point during the 2015 season (if not sooner), Syndergaard would be the obvious choice to replace him in the rotation.  That would leave one of the members of the Gee-Niese duo out of luck and perhaps out of a job in New York.

Knowing full well that either Gee or Niese will not be a Met by this time next year, I decided to see which player the Mets would be better off keeping.  One or both pitchers might be traded if the right deal comes along, but I think one of the two would be better off staying in the Mets' starting rotation.  Here's my reasoning for the player I would like to stick around.

Although he has a 3.91 ERA for his career, Dillon Gee has had only one full season in the majors in which he posted an ERA under 4.00.  Advanced metrics also have his lifetime FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) at 4.23.  For all you kids out there, FIP measures how effective a pitcher is at limiting home runs, walks and hit batsmen while causing strikeouts.  Basically, those are the four categories in which fielders do not determine an outcome.  Therefore, Gee's 4.23 FIP is considered a little higher than what is expected from an average pitcher.

Jonathon Niese has a 3.87 career ERA, but has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in each of his last three seasons, going under 3.50 in two of the last three campaigns.  But on the FIP side, Niese has a lifetime 3.72 FIP and has posted a FIP under 4.00 in each of his last four seasons.  Niese has walked more batters than Gee, but has hit fewer batters and allowed fewer home runs per nine innings than Gee.  And when it comes to strikeouts, Niese is far superior to Gee, as Niese has surpassed 130 strikeouts in a season four times, while Gee has done it just once.

Speaking of strikeouts, although Niese is just 28 years old (he's actually six months younger than Dillon Gee), he's already in the Mets' all-time top ten in career strikeouts.  Niese's 713 Ks are tenth on the team's lifetime leaderboard and he is just one strikeout behind Bobby Jones for ninth place.  Once he passes Jones, the only pitchers in front of him will be Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Ron Darling, Al Leiter and Jon Matlack.  You may also know that octet as arguably the eight best pitchers in the history of the franchise.   Niese's strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.69; 713 K/265 BB) is also far better than Gee's ratio (2.26; 464 K/205 BB).

Let's look at another new metric to determine a pitcher's effectiveness - ERA+.  This metric compares a pitcher's earned run average to the league average and also accounts for park factors, with 100 being considered an average ERA+.  For example, Citi Field is generally considered a pitcher's park.  However, Dillon Gee has never posted an ERA+ of 100 in any of his four full seasons.  From 2011 to 2014, Gee has posted a 90 ERA+, with a career-best 98 ERA+ in 2013, which is still 2% worse than the average pitcher.  Meanwhile, Jonathon Niese has a 97 ERA+ since he became a regular in the rotation in 2010.  But since 2012, Niese has a 104 ERA+, making him 4% better than the average pitcher over the last three seasons.  Niese's career-best performance in this metric came in 2012, when he posted a 112 ERA+.

WAR (wins above replacement) is all the rage in this sabermetric era of baseball.  The higher the WAR, the better the player.  It's that simple.  Looking at the WAR posted by Gee and Niese since 2011 (the year both pitchers were rotation-mates for the first time), it's clear which pitcher has been more valuable to the team.  Gee has a 4.5 WAR since 2011, going above 1.0 just once in the four years (2013, when he posted a 2.2 WAR).  In the same time period, Niese has a 6.2 WAR, posting a 3.4 WAR in 2012 and a 1.7 WAR this past season.

WAR.  What is it good for?  For Niese, it might be good for keeping him in New York.  (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Finally, let's look at one overlooked, but still important, part of the pitcher's game - his offense.  When a pitcher comes to bat, he's not expected to do much.  If there's a runner on base, he's expected to bunt him over.  If there's no one on base, the best a pitcher is expected to do is not get hurt swinging the bat and maybe make the opposing pitcher throw a few extra pitches.  When it comes to proficiency with the bat, there's no contest between Gee and Niese.

Since becoming a regular in the rotation in 2011, Dillon Gee has a .154 on-base percentage, reaching base 27 times (18 hits, nine walks) in 206 plate appearances.  Meanwhile, since Niese joined the rotation for good in 2010, he has reached base an incredible 66 times (38 hits, 28 walks) in 304 plate appearances, which is a .237 on-base percentage.  Of all pitchers with at least 200 plate appearances since 2010, only Zack Greinke (.274 OBP in 245 PA) and Mike Leake (.261 OBP in 338 PA) have a higher on-base percentage than Jonathon Niese and only Ian Kennedy has drawn more walks (32 BB in 342 PA) than Niese.  Kennedy and Niese are the only pitchers who have walked more than 20 times since 2010.

So let's review.  Jonathon Niese has a better ERA, ERA+, FIP and WAR than Dillon Gee.  Niese is also much more adept at recording strikeouts than Gee and has a better K/BB ratio.  And while Gee is almost an automatic out with the bat, Niese gives the Mets a ninth hitter in the lineup, reaching base just under a quarter of the time.  Niese isn't going to break into a home run trot any time soon, but he has proven to be one of the better handlers of the bat among National League pitchers.

Dillon Gee will blow out 29 candles during the first month of the 2015 campaign.  Jonathon Niese will be 28 all season.  Niese has more experience than Gee, having pitched at Shea Stadium.  Niese is also left-handed, something no other starting pitcher on the Mets can claim.  Although Gee is still arbitration eligible and will likely not command more than $5 million in 2015, Niese is due $7 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016, hardly amounts that would break the Wilpon family piggy bank.

If the Mets are going to trade one of their veteran homegrown pitchers before the curtains rise on the 2015 season, it should be clear which one should go.  Although I've always enjoyed watching him pitch and still believe he can be successful in New York, Dillon Gee will probably be the victim of an overcrowded starting rotation.  Jonathon Niese, despite all the question marks surrounding his health, has still made at least 24 starts in each of his five full seasons in the majors.  Gee has surpassed 22 starts just twice in his four full seasons with the Mets.  Also, Niese may not always utter the most politically correct statements, especially when it comes to Mets fans' loyalty, but you can't say he was pulling things out of his posterior.  If the Mets are going to draw the crowds Niese was used to seeing when he was a neophyte, then the team has to play better.  And right now, I believe the team will perform better with Niese on the team instead of Gee.

Of course, trading Gee or Niese will depend on the package the Mets would receive in return, but if each package was similar and the Mets had an option of trading either player, then that player should be Gee.  The future of the team would look a lot brighter if it held on to Niese.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Doc Gooden's Greatness On The Mound Extended Past The 1986 Season

Photo by Ray Stubblebine/AP

Dwight Gooden, the Mets' hurler who helped exhume the team from Grant's Tomb and brought Shea Stadium back to life in the mid-'80s, is celebrating his 50th birthday today.  When Gooden was at his peak three decades ago, the baseball cognoscenti agreed that his first three seasons in the major leagues were among the best by a young pitcher in the game's history.  Gooden took the mound 99 times from 1984 to 1986, going 58-19 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 35 complete games, 13 shutouts and 744 strikeouts - reaching 200 or more strikeouts in each season.

But after off-the-field problems came to light prior to the 1987 campaign, Gooden went from being Dr. K to being Dr. Just OK.  Or did he?

From 1987 to 1991, Doc's numbers were clearly not the same as they were during his first three seasons.  But they were still pretty darn good.  In his fourth through eighth seasons with the Mets, Gooden went 74-34 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, striking out 797 batters, completing 22 games and tossing eight shutouts.  He also finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting twice.  (Gooden was fifth in the Cy Young balloting in 1987 and fourth in 1990.)  He accomplished all of this from 1987 to 1991 despite making fewer than 28 starts in three of the five seasons.

Perhaps his greatest and most underappreciated accomplishment occurred in 1991.  After seven consecutive seasons of winning 87 or more games, the Mets finished under .500 in '91.  But Gooden still managed to finish with a 13-7 record, 3.60 ERA and 150 strikeouts in only 27 starts.  In 15 of those 27 starts, Gooden allowed two earned runs or fewer, but received losses or no-decisions in six of the games, mainly because he was surrounded by a putrid offense.

Keith Miller (.280) and Gregg Jefferies (.272) were the only players with 300 or more plate appearances to finish the year with a batting average north of .260.  Howard Johnson (38 HR, 117 RBI, 108 runs) was the sole Met with more than 16 homers, 74 RBI or 65 runs scored.  Gooden basically had to help himself when he was in the game, as he batted .238 with three doubles, a homer, six RBI and seven runs scored in only 63 at-bats.  His .333 slugging percentage was higher than the marks posted by Mark Carreon (.331 in 254 AB), Vince Coleman (.327 in 278 AB) and Garry Templeton (.306 in 219 AB).

In the five seasons immediately following the 1986 championship campaign, when Gooden supposedly went from being a great pitcher to just being a very good pitcher, the right-hander's winning percentage was .685 in 137 starts.  That was the highest winning percentage for all pitchers who made 100 or more starts from 1987 to 1991.  The rest of the top five included Dave Stieb, Roger Clemens, Bob Welch and Dave Stewart - pitchers who combined to win 909 games over their long and successful major league careers.

Dwight Gooden .685 137 74 34 3.39 2.78 .249 .304 .342 .647
Dave Stieb .667 137 68 34 3.32 3.78 .226 .306 .332 .638
Roger Clemens .662 172 94 48 2.74 2.61 .227 .284 .329 .613
Bob Welch .662 174 88 45 3.47 3.93 .245 .313 .375 .689
Dave Stewart .629 181 95 56 3.54 3.66 .246 .314 .366 .680
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2014.

The Mets averaged nearly 99 wins a season from 1984 to 1986, with Gooden accounting for 58 of the team's 296 wins in those three campaigns.  Although several stints on the disabled list caused Gooden to miss significant time in 1987, 1989 and 1991, Doc still won 74 games in the five years immediately following the team's championship in 1986.

Averaging 27 starts per season from 1987 to 1991 should have allowed other National League pitchers to finish well ahead of Gooden in wins, but that never happened.  In fact, only Doug Drabek won more games in the Senior Circuit than Dwight Gooden did during that five-year stretch, as seen in the chart below.

Doug Drabek 77 165 162 26 12 .602 1106.0 1009 283 643
Dwight Gooden 74 139 137 22 8 .685 969.0 911 283 797
Greg Maddux 73 171 168 32 9 .549 1143.0 1107 374 718
Tom Browning 72 176 175 19 5 .576 1141.1 1123 297 573
David Cone 67 155 138 27 10 .620 994.2 829 336 945
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2014.

When Gooden was at his best from 1984 to 1986, he was the league's premier strikeout pitcher, fanning 200 or more batters in each of his first three seasons and averaging nearly 250 Ks per year.  Gooden's propensity for throwing strike three earned him the nickname Dr. K, but just because he wasn't leading the league in strikeouts from 1987 to 1991 as he did in his first two seasons didn't mean he was no longer frustrating batters at the plate.

In his fourth through eighth seasons in the big leagues, the good Doctor struck out 797 batters.  Only one pitcher in the National League had more strikeouts than Gooden did during those five "post-dominant Doc" seasons - his teammate, David Cone, who won two strikeout titles of his own in 1990 and 1991.

Player SO SO/9 SO/BB K% GS W L W-L% IP BF
David Cone 945 8.55 2.81 23.1% 138 67 41 .620 994.2 4092
Dwight Gooden 797 7.40 2.82 19.8% 137 74 34 .685 969.0 4023
Sid Fernandez 733 8.40 2.55 22.8% 128 48 40 .545 785.2 3211
Mike Scott 719 7.13 2.72 19.4% 134 59 46 .562 908.0 3715
Greg Maddux 718 5.65 1.92 14.9% 168 73 60 .549 1143.0 4831
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2014.

There's one last thing that won't show up in a boxscore or a Baseball Reference chart that helps assess Dwight Gooden's value to the Mets after his first three historic seasons with the team.  During the five-year period from 1987 to 1991, Gooden was outstanding at helping the Mets win games that immediately followed a loss, thereby preventing the Mets from suffering through extended losing streaks.  In Gooden's 137 starts during those five years, 65 of them came after a loss by the team.  The Mets' record in those 65 contests was 41-24, giving the team a .631 winning percentage in post-loss games started by Doc.  When any other starting pitcher took the mound immediately following a Mets loss during that five-year stretch, the team's record in those games was 147-148, for a .498 winning percentage.  That's how valuable Gooden was to the team after he had supposedly lost his ability to dominate hitters.

Dwight Gooden never had a winning percentage under .650 in any season from 1987 to 1991, while the Mets never posted a winning percentage above .625 in any of those five campaigns.  The entire team stopped being as great as they were in 1986, but not Doc.  He just continued to find ways to win.  If anything, he was one of the main reasons why the team continued to be competitive for as long as they did, until the bottom fell out in the early '90s.

Today is Doc's 50th birthday, making it a perfect day to look back at how golden he was not just during his first three seasons with the Mets, but in the years immediately following the team's World Series championship.  The baseball pundits might say Gooden wasn't the same pitcher after 1986, but that didn't make him any less valuable to the Mets.  The numbers don't lie.  Doc Gooden never lost his ability to be among the best pitchers in the league even when his club stopped being one of the best teams in the league.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gettin' Iggy With It: Up At The Crack of Ass To Talk About Trading One

"Hey, Cole Hamels!  What's that on your lip?"

Good afternoon, everyone!  This is Iggy Beartran, sister to Studious Metsimus roving reporter Joey Beartran and expert on all things Cole Hamels.  Normally, I like to sleep in on Saturdays, but upon hearing yesterday's news about the Phillies looking to trade their resident ass, I had to wake up early to discuss this news with our readers (assuming any of you are awake at this time).

On Friday, several reports had Hamels updating his no-trade clause, which currently includes 20 teams he cannot be dealt to without his consent (the Mets are on this list because he knows Citi Field is a "no ass zone").  Interim team president Pat Gillick acknowledged that he doesn't expect the Phillies to be competitive for at least three seasons.  Therefore, keeping a $24 million a year pitcher until the final years of his contract when he's in his mid-30s and not as tradeable - well, that would be (ahem) phoolish.  Almost as foolish as the team giving him a six-year, $144 million deal to begin with.  Not to mention Ryan Howard's albatross of a contract, which still has two years and $50 million left on it, plus a $10 million buyout for the 2017 season.

Let's look at what the Phillies' version of the "core four" has done over the past few years and see how tradeable those players are.

Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is entering the final year of his four-year, $44 million contract.  His career numbers are excellent (479 doubles, 111 triples, 216 homers, 453 stolen bases, 1,325 runs scored), but his best seasons are behind him.  Way, way behind him.  Rollins has batted over .252 just once in the last six seasons and has a .318 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage over that same time period.  That means Ruben Tejada has a better chance of reaching base (Tejada has a .328 OBP in five seasons as a Met) and Daniel Murphy can outslug the former NL MVP (Murphy has a lifetime .419 slugging percentage in six seasons despite never hitting more than 13 homers over a full season).

Oh, and did I mention that Rollins has made the third-most outs in the National League since 2009?  I didn't?  Well, I am now.  In fact, let's compare him to some of those other "out-makers".

Player Outs Made From To Age G PA AB R H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
Hunter Pence 2812 2009 2014 26-31 953 4056 3701 537 1042 183 143 537 .282 .338 .464 .803
Brandon Phillips 2703 2009 2014 28-33 877 3794 3468 482 960 180 100 470 .277 .326 .424 .750
Jimmy Rollins 2625 2009 2014 30-35 839 3724 3359 480 845 172 91 343 .252 .318 .397 .714
Justin Upton 2510 2009 2014 21-26 883 3745 3291 540 919 181 147 482 .279 .357 .482 .839
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/25/2014.

From 2009 to 2014, the top four out-makers in the National League include Hunter Pence, Brandon Phillips, Justin Upton and Rollins.  Rollins has put himself on this list despite playing the fewest games of the foursome and having the fewest plate appearances, at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, homers and runs batted in.  He also has the lowest batting average (by far), on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.  And most importantly, Rollins is the oldest player in the out-making firm of Pence, Phillips, Upton and Rollins.

If any team wants a soon-to-be 36-year-old shortstop who can learn a thing or two about reaching base from Ruben Tejada and slugging from Daniel Murphy, and who's only consistent about one thing at his advanced age - making outs - then Rollins is the man that team should target.  The bottom line is that Rollins is practically untradeable, especially if his decline continues in 2015.

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard was once known for being one of the most feared hitters in the league, averaging 44 HR and 133 RBI from 2006 to 2011.  But beginning in 2012 (the first season of his five-year, $125 million contract), Howard has been known for a few "s"-words - strikeouts, Subway sandwiches and suckitude.

Over the past three seasons, Howard has averaged 101 games played per year due to an assortment of injuries, but that hasn't stopped him from striking out at an alarming rate.  Howard has whiffed 128 times per season since 2012 despite missing 182 games.  He has also averaged 16 homers and 65 RBI per year since 2012, and hit just 23 homers in 2014 despite being healthy all season (153 games played).  Howard had a career-low .380 slugging percentage in 2014 and led the majors in strikeouts with 190.  That's what $25 million a year buys the Phillies these days.

But hey, at least that kind of green can buy Howard all the Subway sandwiches he can eat (or are those called hoagies in Philadelphia?).

(GIF courtesy of Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley)

Chase Utley

In 2014, Chase Utley played 150+ games for the first time since 2009, but his final numbers were nowhere near what he produced in the Phillies' last pennant-winning season.  In 2009, Utley produced a .282/.397/.508 slash line, hit 31 homers (his third 30-homer campaign) and set new career highs with 23 stolen bases and 88 walks.  Five years later, Utley's first injury-free season since 2009 saw him produce a .270/.339/.407 slash line, 11 home runs, 10 stolen bases and just 53 walks.

Looking at Utley's five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 and comparing that to his last five years shows that Utley is a shadow of his former self.

  • 2005-09: 151 games, .301/.388/.535, 39 doubles, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 111 runs scored
  • 2010-14: 117 games, .270/.355/.435, 23 doubles, 13 HR, 60 RBI, 65 runs scored

Because of Utley's injury-free season in 2014, his $10 million salary in 2015 jumps up to $15 million, as there was a clause in his contract that guaranteed the 50% increase if he did not spend time on the disabled list with a knee injury in 2014.  A similar campaign will cause a $15 million option to kick in for 2016.  The same option applies to the 2017 and 2018 seasons.  Utley will earn $15 million per year if he collects 500 or more plate appearances in his previous campaign.  For the record, Utley played in 115 games in 2010 and 131 games in 2013, but still reached 500 plate appearances in both seasons.  In other words, the Phillies might be rooting for a long stint on the disabled list for their second baseman just to get out of a contract that could pay Utley $60 million between now and his age 39 season in 2018.

How are the Phillies going to be able to trade a guy who hasn't had a great season since 2009 to a team that would have to pay him top dollar if he stays on the field?  Utley's staying, for better or for worse.  Probably for worse.

Cole Hamels

And that brings us back to Cole Hamels.  The smiling ass still has four years and $96 million left on a contract that will pay him until he's 34, which means he'll be younger at the end of the deal than Rollins, Howard and Utley are right now.

As much as Hamels sucks against the Mets (ha, ha!), he is very good against everyone else.  In 2014, Hamels produced a career-best 2.46 ERA, reaching 200 innings for the sixth time in seven seasons.  Over the last five years, Hamels has averaged a 3.00 ERA, 1.119 WHIP and 204 strikeouts per season.  He is one of six pitchers to have 1,000 or more strikeouts since 2010.  The others are Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price.  You probably recognize those names as pitchers who have won the Cy Young Award.  In fact, there are only three pitchers in all of baseball who have produced an ERA of 3.00 or lower, a WHIP not exceeding 1.12 and 1,000 strikeouts over the last five seasons.  Those pitchers are Kershaw, Hernandez and Hamels.

In other words, Cole Hamels might be an ass, but he's a mighty fine ass.

And this is a mighty fine picture of Cole Hamels.

Cole Hamels is just 30 years old (he'll be 31 in December).  Unlike his older homegrown teammates, Hamels is still quite productive, meaning he's actually earning his exorbitant salary.  But all of his quality starts have done little to help the Phillies win.  Over the last two seasons, Hamels has allowed two runs or fewer in 39 starts.  The Phillies lost 18 of those games.

Here is a list of every pitcher since 1901 who did not reach double digits in victories during a year in which he made at least 30 starts and produced a sub-2.50 ERA.

Cole Hamels 2014 2.46 30 9 30 PHI NL 9 .500 204.2 176 60 56 59 198 .235 .296 .345 .641
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/25/2014.

Not exactly a long list, is it?  In fact, since the advent of divisional play in 1969, only two pitchers have come close to matching what Hamels did, and both names might look familiar to fans of National League baseball in New York.

Cole Hamels 2014 2.46 30 9 30 PHI NL 9 .500 204.2 176 60 56 59 198 .235 .296 .345 .641
Matt Harvey 2013 2.27 26 9 24 NYM NL 5 .643 178.1 135 46 45 31 191 .209 .248 .282 .530
Craig Swan 1978 2.43 28 9 27 NYM NL 6 .600 207.1 164 62 56 58 125 .219 .275 .321 .597
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/25/2014.

Both Craig Swan and Matt Harvey failed to reach ten victories in their outstanding seasons, but each pitcher had a sub-2.50 ERA.  However, unlike Hamels, who made 30 starts in 2014, Swan and Harvey started 28 and 26 games, respectively, leaving Hamels all by his lonesome in the 30-start, 2.50-or-under-ERA, single-digit-victory club.

Imagine what Hamels could do for a team that, you know, actually scores runs.  It would behoove the Phillies to trade Hamels now, while he's still in his prime and is still putting up All-Star numbers.

Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels are the Phillies' version of the "core four", as the quartet was originally drafted by Philadelphia and have spent a combined 47 seasons in the city of Brotherly Love.  But Rollins, Howard and Utley are all past their prime years and are playing like it.  Hamels is not.

"We're not amused that Iggy Beartran thinks we're past out prime." (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

For years, Cole Hamels has never endeared himself to Mets fans.  From calling the Mets chokers following the Phillies' 2008 championship season to costing R.A. Dickey a chance to toss the team's first no-hitter in 2010, Hamels has been the textbook definition of an ass.

During the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, Hamels admitted that he couldn't wait to go home while his teammates were trying to win a second championship.  If he wants to win more games, perhaps home for Hamels should be in a city that doesn't serve up steaks on a hoagie or poorly-timed quotes from its star pitcher.

Escaping from Philadelphia can help both the Phillies on a team level and Cole Hamels on a personal level.  Hopefully, if Hamels does get traded, it's to a team that has the Mets on its schedule.  That 8-14 career mark versus New York needs a few more 'L's on it.