The Future of the Mets

The New York Mets were dealt a devastating blow yesterday, when the club learned that Matt Harvey has a partially torn UCL in his throwing arm. A tear of the UCL usually requires Tommy John surgery in order to replace the ligament, and it usually takes a full year to recover from the surgery. As of right now, Harvey plans to rehab from the partial tear without undergoing Tommy John surgery, but it is very likely that Harvey will need surgery to repair the ligament. The injury really has little effect on the Mets for this season, as the club sits 19 games behind the Braves for the division lead. However, if Harvey does require Tommy John surgery, this injury will greatly impact the Mets’ future, especially their timeline for contending.

The Mets haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, but the rebuilding process seemed nearly over, with the farm system looking stronger at the upper levels. Mets’ General Manager, Sandy Alderson, has said that 2014 is the team’s target year for being consistent contenders. Alderson has also suggested that the club’s payroll would be “substantially higher” in 2014. However, with the likelihood that Harvey will miss all of the 2014 season, and the fact that the team still has many holes to fill, it seems unlikely that the Mets will contend for a playoff spot. The biggest issue for the Mets is that they lack long-term answers at many offensive positions i.e, David Wright has been the only constant in the Mets’ lineup. So far this season, the Mets rank 21st in runs, in large part due to their 27th ranked wOBP. The entire Met’s lineup lacks solid pieces to build around, with Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores and Travis d’Arnaud as the only young position players that have impressed so far this season. Even these players come with plenty of questions. The Mets have seen just as many young players take large steps in the wrong direction, with Ruben Tejeda, Ike Davis, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda all having regressed following promising seasons. If the Mets can get just two of these players to rebound, it would go a long way to filling some holes in their roster, without needing to go outside the organization.

The reason the Mets seemed primed for a breakthrough in 2014 has to do with their pitching depth as well as talent. The Mets’ rotation has really gone under the radar, as they currently rank 8th in K/9 and BB/9. The Mets also rank 5th in FIP, which is a great statistic for predicting a pitcher or club’s future performance. The Mets currently have four top pitchers under the age of 25, including Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Jenrry Mejia. The Mets also have controllable starters in Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. However, with the loss of Harvey and Syndergaard still likely another year away from the Majors, it seems like 2014 is definitely going to be another lost season for the Mets, even if they make a few offensive additions.

After the Tommy John surgery, Harvey would likely be able to return by 2015, but many pitchers perform much more effectively in their second full season back from Tommy John surgery than they do in their first. This table should illustrate how some of the league’s top pitchers have gotten progressively better in their second year back from Tommy John, compared with their first year back.

Pitcher ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9
Adam Wainwright– Year 1 3.94 3.10 198 2/3 8.3 2.4
Adam Wainwright- Year 2 2.58 2.32 198 2/3 8.2 1.1
Chris Carpenter– Year 1 3.46 3.85 182 7.5 1.9
Chris Carpenter- Year 2 2.83 2.90 241 2/3 7.9 1.9
Jordan Zimmermann– Year 1 3.18 3.16 161 1/3 6.9 1.7
Jordan Zimmermann- Year 2 2.94 3.51 195 2/3 7.0 2.0
Josh Johnson– Year 1 3.23 3.06 209 8.2 2.5
Josh Johnson- Year 2 2.30 2.41 183 2/3 9.1 2.4

Knowing that Harvey is not likely to come back at full strength in 2015, and the fact that the Mets’ rotation will still be young and controllable, it seems best for the New York Mets to go all in for 2016. If the Mets shoot for 2016 as the legitimate target year for contending and do not go all in too soon, then they will be able to gradually grow their payroll. While steadily growing their payroll, the Mets will be able to spend their money on the right players, and avoid the terrible contracts that got them into this position in the first place. While Harvey’s injury may not hurt the Mets this season, it will likely delay the Mets’ chances to contend.

Anthony Cacchione

The Case Against Moving Wacha to the Bullpen

When Michael Wacha was first promoted to the MLB, I gave a scouting report in which I suggested Wacha would eventually develop into a #2 or #3 starter. However, at least for the near future, the Cardinals have shifted Wacha to the bullpen. There are a few factors that led the Cardinals to make this decision, but most of them seem very shortsighted. The Cardinals should not risk Wacha’s long-term health and long-term abilities in order to slightly improve the team’s bullpen for the remainder of the 2013 season.
The Cardinals clearly have their reasons for changing Wacha’s role, and since they see the move as temporary, most of their motives are related to this season. There is no doubt that Wacha is ready for the Majors, as he has succeed in 4 Big League starts with a 4.37 ERA, which is inflated by one tough outing against Arizona. Despite Wacha’s success, there is really no opening in the rotation. The Cardinals feel that by moving Wacha to the bullpen they can limit his workload on the season, while still allowing him to contribute at the Major League level. Clearly, the Cardinals have a need in the bullpen if they are willing to convert one of their most prized starting pitching prospects into a reliever, even if it is only temporary. The Cardinals certainly need better performances from its relievers, as the team ranks 20th in ERA at 3.79, which is actually lower because of how good their late-inning relievers have done, but the middle relievers have not been as reliable. And while it was in the lower levels of the Minors, Wacha has enjoyed success as a reliever, with a 0.86 ERA across three Minor League levels last season. It is not crazy to think that Wacha can immediately dominate as a reliever at the Big League level, especially because he will be able to work with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and devastating -, while being able to only throw his curve on occasion. The current plan is for Wacha to be used as a late-inning reliever for the Cardinals, in order for them to control the innings of their other late-inning relievers.
Other than limiting his innings, which could have been accomplished by another method, none of these reasons are designed to improve Wacha’s long-term development. Obviously, at some point, a team has to stop focusing on a prospect’s future and shift to how that player can help the team now, but Wacha was drafted just last season, and still has plenty he needs to improve, such as his curveball. While a shift to the bullpen will limit his innings, it will also allow Wacha to pitch without using his curveball very much, which is a pitch he drastically needs to improve in order to take his game to the next level, as a true three-pitch pitcher. The better option for Wacha’s development would be to keep him in Triple-A as a starter and allow him to develop all three of his pitches until he reaches his innings limit, at which point the Cardinals can shut him down. Many young starting pitchers have been converted to relievers for what was meant to be temporary, yet not many are able to return to being successful starters. That list includes:

  • Joba Chamberlain, who carried a 2.28 ERA through 22 starts at the Minor League level, but just a 3.80 ERA through 247 career games, just 43 starts. Chamberlain’s last Major League start came in 2009, which was his only full season as a starter due to a 4.75 ERA in 31 starts.
  • The 12th pick of the 2009 Amateur Draft, Aaron Crow, is another starter that was rushed to the Majors to work out of the bullpen. While Crow has been a reliable reliever, he was given the opportunity to develop a third, so he works almost exclusively with his fastball-slider combo, which is effective as a reliever, but insufficient as a starting pitcher. Three years into his Major League career, Crow has never made a start.
  • Neftali Feliz dominated to a 2.95 ERA during his Minor League career, which covered 86 appearances, 58 of which were starts. After pitching almost exclusively as a starter for three years, Feliz was promoted as a reliever at the age of 21. Feliz dominated as a reliever at the MLB level and was even successful for his 7 starts in 2012. Unfortunately, Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2012 season, which is the year he attempted a return to the rotation, after three seasons as a reliever.

The Cardinals have clear motives for moving Wacha to the bullpen, and although they are valid in the short-term, it is worth considering the possible long-term effects of the such a move. On Wednesday, Wacha made his first relief appearance at the Major League level, and pitched 2 perfect innings recording 4 strikeouts. After his strong relief appearance on Wednesday, I have no doubt Wacha can dominate as a reliever, but it does not seem worthwhile to risk Wacha’s potential future as a reliable starter in order to improve the Cardinals’ bullpen for the remainder of the season. It seems even more questionable, since the Cardinals seem bound for the playoffs, and with so little of the season left, Wacha’s impact will not be that significant.

Anthony Cacchione